[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 238 (Thursday, December 11, 2014)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 73705-73748]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-28338]



[[Page 73705]]

Vol. 79

Thursday,

No. 238

December 11, 2014

Part II





Department of the Interior





-----------------------------------------------------------------------





Fish and Wildlife Service





-----------------------------------------------------------------------





50 CFR Part 17





Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Threatened Species 
Status for the Rufa Red Knot; Final Rule

Federal Register / Vol. 79 , No. 238 / Thursday, December 11, 2014 / 
Rules and Regulations

[[Page 73706]]


-----------------------------------------------------------------------

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R5-ES-2013-0097; 4500030113]
RIN 1018-AY17


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Threatened Species 
Status for the Rufa Red Knot

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Final rule.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), determine 
threatened species status under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 
(Act), as amended, for the rufa red knot (Calidris canutus rufa). The 
rufa red knot is a migratory shorebird that breeds in the Canadian 
Arctic, winters in parts of the United States, the Caribbean, and South 
America, and primarily uses well-known spring and fall stopover areas 
on the Atlantic coast of the United States, although some follow a 
midcontinental migratory route. The effect of this regulation will be 
to add this species to the list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.

DATES: This rule becomes effective January 12, 2015.

ADDRESSES: This final rule is available on the internet at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket Number FWS-R5-ES-2013-0097 and at http://www.fws.gov/northeast/redknot/. Comments and materials we received, as 
well as supporting documentation we used in preparing this rule, are 
available for public inspection at http://www.regulations.gov. All of 
the comments, materials, and documentation that we considered in this 
rulemaking are available by appointment, during normal business hours 
at: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New Jersey Field Office (see FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Eric Schrading, Field Supervisor, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, New Jersey Field Office, 927 North Main 
Street, Building D, Pleasantville, New Jersey 08232, by telephone 609-
383-3938 or by facsimile 609-646-0352. Persons who use a 
telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal 
Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Executive Summary

    Why we need to publish a rule. Under the Endangered Species Act, a 
species may warrant protection through listing if it is endangered or 
threatened throughout all or a significant portion of its range. 
Listing a species as an endangered or threatened species can only be 
completed by issuing a rule.
    This rule will finalize the listing of the rufa red knot (Calidris 
canutus rufa) as a threatened species.
    The basis for our action. Under the Endangered Species Act, we may 
determine that a species is an endangered or threatened species based 
on any of five factors: (A) The present or threatened destruction, 
modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) 
Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes; (C) Disease or predation; (D) The inadequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) Other natural or manmade factors 
affecting its continued existence. We have determined that the rufa red 
knot is a threatened species due to loss of both breeding and 
nonbreeding habitat; likely effects related to disruption of natural 
predator cycles on the breeding grounds; reduced prey availability 
throughout the nonbreeding range; and increasing frequency and severity 
of asynchronies (mismatches) in the timing of the birds' annual 
migratory cycle relative to favorable food and weather conditions.
    Peer review and public comment. We sought comments from three 
independent specialists with expertise on red knot biology and sea 
level rise to ensure that our designation is based on scientifically 
sound data, assumptions, and analyses. We invited these peer reviewers 
to comment on our listing proposal. Only one of the three peer 
reviewers provided comments on the proposal. This peer reviewer was 
generally supportive of the proposal, and provided substantive comments 
and documentation regarding biological differences between red knots in 
northern versus southern wintering areas. Many of these differences 
were already in the proposal but in separate locations; we consolidated 
and emphasized these differences, updating as appropriate with new 
information.

Previous Federal Action

    Please refer to the proposed listing rule for the rufa red knot (78 
FR 60024; September 30, 2013) and its Previous Actions supplement 
available online at www.regulations.gov under Docket Number FWS-R5-ES-
2013-0097 for a detailed description of previous Federal actions 
concerning this species.

Background

Species Information

    The rufa red knot (Calidris canutus rufa) is a medium-sized 
shorebird about 9 to 11 inches (in) (23 to 28 centimeters (cm)) in 
length. (Throughout this document, ``rufa red knot,'' ``red knot,'' and 
``knot'' are used interchangeably to refer to the rufa subspecies. 
``Calidris canutus'' and ``C. canutus'' are used to refer to the 
species as a whole or to birds of unknown subspecies. References to 
other particular subspecies are so indicated.) The red knot migrates 
annually between its breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic and 
several wintering regions, including the Southeast United States 
(Southeast), the Northeast Gulf of Mexico, northern Brazil, and Tierra 
del Fuego at the southern tip of South America. During both the 
northbound (spring) and southbound (fall) migrations, red knots use key 
staging and stopover areas to rest and feed.
    The November 2014 Rufa Red Knot Background Information and Threats 
Assessment (Supplemental Document; Service 2014, entire), available 
online at www.regulations.gov under Docket Number FWS-R5-ES-2013-0097, 
provides a thorough assessment of the rufa red knot biology and 
ecology, historical distribution and abundance, population surveys and 
estimates, and threats to its survival. The Supplemental Document has 
been updated since the September 30, 2013 publication of the proposed 
rule with data received during the peer review and public comment 
processes and relevant scientific data that have become available. In 
the Supplemental Document, we compile biological data and a description 
of past, present, and likely future threats facing the red knot. 
Because data in these areas of science can be limited, some 
uncertainties are associated with the data and conclusions drawn from 
the data. We have attempted to clearly identify these uncertainties and 
assumptions, which are based on the best available scientific and 
commercial data, explicit in the Supplemental Document. The 
Supplemental Document provides the scientific basis for our decision 
(see Summary of Biological Status and Threats in this final rule), the 
legal basis for which is the Act and its regulations and policies (see 
Determination in this final rule).

Summary of Biological Status and Threats

    In this section, we summarize the population and threats 
information previously provided in the proposed

[[Page 73707]]

rule (78 FR 60024; September 30, 2013) and updated as appropriate from 
new information received since the proposed rule's publication. See the 
Summary of Changes from the Proposed Rule section below for what has 
been updated.
    We note that the proposed rule referenced four separate documents 
of supporting material--Previous Federal Actions, Rufa Red Knot Ecology 
and Abundance, Climate Change Background, and Factor D: The Inadequacy 
of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms. For this final rule, we have 
combined those documents into one Supplemental Document. From here 
forward, when we are referencing information in the proposed rule, we 
will use the proposed rule's Federal Register citation and page number 
(e.g., 78 FR 60024, p. 60032); when we are referencing information in 
one of the proposed rule's supporting documents, we will use the 
document's name and page number (e.g., Rufa Red Knot Ecology and 
Abundance, p. 5); and when we are referencing information now contained 
in the final rule's Supplemental Document, we will use the Supplemental 
Document's title and section (e.g., Supplemental Document, Factor E--
Reduced Food Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest).
    Population Information: After a thorough review of the best 
available population data, we conclude that we do not have sufficient 
reliable data on which to derive a precise rangewide population 
estimate for the rufa red knot. For example, there are no rangewide 
population estimates for fall migration or breeding areas because birds 
are too dispersed. We have limited confidence in any population trends 
inferred from wintering areas in Brazil's north coast, the northern 
Gulf coast, and the Southeast United States because available data from 
these areas vary in geographic coverage, methods, and level of effort. 
However, there are several areas where surveys have been conducted 
using more consistent observers, methods, and geographic coverage: 
Tierra del Fuego and the Argentine coast (winter), Delaware Bay 
(spring), the east coast of South America (spring), and Virginia 
(spring).
    For Tierra del Fuego, baseline population data are available from 
the 1980s, and annual counts are available from 2000 to 2013, all 
collected with the same methodology and surveyors. The most recent 
counts (2011 to 2013) are about 75 percent lower than the 1980s 
baseline. The annual counts (2000 to 2013) show that the decline began 
after 2000, but the population has apparently stabilized at a low level 
since 2011.
    For Delaware Bay, baseline data are available from the early 1980s, 
and annual peak counts are available for 1986 to 2014. The core years 
of 1986 to 2008 were collected with consistent methodology and 
surveyors. Based on these data, there may have been declines in the 
Delaware Bay stopover population in the 1990s, but variability in the 
data makes it difficult to detect trends. In contrast, the decline in 
Delaware Bay red knot counts in the 2000s was sufficiently pronounced 
and sustained that we have confidence in the downward trend over this 
time period despite the variability in the data. The average of peak 
counts in Delaware Bay over the past decade (2005 to 2014) was about 70 
percent lower than the 1980s baseline. However, Delaware Bay numbers 
appear to have stabilized or increased slightly from 2009 to 2014, 
despite our lower confidence in the data over this later period due to 
shifts in methodology and surveyors.
    Data sets from three South American Atlantic coast spring stopovers 
also suggest declines roughly over this same timeframe (early 2000s 
relative to 1990s). We previously concluded that the Virginia spring 
stopover had been stable since the mid-1990s, but new information now 
indicates a decline in Virginia relative to the 1990s.
    In summary, our analysis of the best available data concludes that 
an overall, sustained decline of red knot numbers occurred at Tierra 
del Fuego and Delaware Bay in the 2000s, and that these red knot 
populations may have stabilized at a relatively low level in the last 
few years. Although we lack sufficiently robust data to conclude if 
other wintering and stopover areas also declined, we conclude it is 
likely that declines at Tierra del Fuego and Delaware Bay drove an 
overall population decline (i.e., lower total numbers), because these 
two sites supported a large majority of rangewide knots during the 
baseline 1980s period. This conclusion is consistent with efforts (by 
others) to evaluate long-term population trends using national or 
regional data from volunteer shorebird surveys and other sources, which 
have also generally concluded that red knot numbers have declined. 
Please refer to this final rule's Supplemental Document--Population 
Surveys and Estimates for a more detailed discussion of the population 
information available for the rufa red knot throughout its range, 
available online at www.regulations.gov under Docket FWS-R5-ES-2013-
0097.
    Threats: Substantial threats exist throughout the red knot's 
breeding, migration, and wintering range and these threats are likely 
to continue or intensify into the future. For a full discussion of the 
five factors (i.e., Factors A, B, C, D, and E) assessed as a basis for 
making the listing determination, please see the Supplemental 
Document--Summary of Factors Affecting the Species available online at 
www.regulations.gov under Docket Number FWS-R5-ES-2013-0097. A summary 
is provided below:
    (1) Past habitat losses in wintering and migration areas have 
reduced the resilience of the red knot (Factor A). Ongoing losses in 
these areas from sea level rise, shoreline hardening, and development 
are expected to continue into the coming decades (Factor A). Beach 
nourishment can be beneficial or detrimental to red knot habitat, 
though any negative effects are mostly considered to be short-term. 
More recently, vegetation and ecosystem changes resulting from climate 
change, and potentially from development, have begun to threaten 
habitat loss on the breeding grounds as well (Factor A).
    (2) Threats to the current and future quality and quantity of prey 
resources occur throughout the red knot's range from climate change and 
other causes (e.g., ocean acidification; warming coastal waters; marine 
diseases, parasites, and invasive species; sediment placement; 
recreation; and fisheries) (Factor E). Reduced food availability in 
Delaware Bay due to commercial harvest of the horseshoe crab (Limulus 
polyphemus) (HSC) is considered a primary causal factor in red knot 
population declines in the 2000s. (Red knots rely on horseshoe crab 
eggs as food during their spring stopover in Delaware Bay.) We do not 
consider the HSC harvest a threat under the science-based management 
framework that has been developed and adopted to explicitly link 
harvest quotas to red knot population growth (Factor D). However, HSC 
monitoring necessary for the implementation of the management framework 
was not conducted in 2013 or 2014 due to lack of funding; thus, the 
framework is not currently being implemented as it was intended to 
function. There is uncertainty regarding implementation of the 
framework in the future (Factor D). While we anticipate a fully 
functioning management framework would continue to adequately abate the 
threat to red knots from the HSC harvest, there are other biological 
factors independent of harvest that may limit the availability of HSC 
eggs into the future. For example, HSC population growth may be limited 
by a biological lag time because HSCs take up to 10-years to become 
sexually

[[Page 73708]]

mature and therefore it may take at least that long for harvest 
restrictions (which have been phased in since 2000) to produce a 
corresponding increase in HSC populations. Other factors (e.g., early 
life stage mortality, undocumented or underreported mortality) may also 
be slowing HSC population growth (Factor E). Most data suggest that the 
volume of horseshoe crab eggs is currently sufficient to support the 
Delaware Bay's stopover population of red knots at its present size. 
However, because of the uncertain trajectory of horseshoe crab 
population growth, it is not yet known if the HSC egg resource will 
continue to adequately support red knot population growth over the next 
decade.
    (3) The red knot faces ongoing and future increases in asynchronies 
(timing mismatches) throughout its migration and breeding range as a 
result of climate change and unknown causes (Factor E). Successful 
annual migration and breeding of red knots is highly dependent on the 
timing of departures and arrivals to coincide with favorable food and 
weather conditions in the spring and fall migratory stopover areas and 
on the Arctic breeding grounds (Factor E).
    (4) On the arctic breeding grounds, normal 3- to 4-year cycles of 
high predation, mediated by rodent (e.g., lemming) cycles, result in 
years with low reproductive output of red knots (in some years it is 
zero), but do not threaten the survival of the red knot at the 
subspecies level (Factor C). That is, when lemmings are abundant, 
predators (e.g., arctic fox) concentrate on the lemmings, and 
shorebirds breed successfully, but when lemmings are in short supply, 
predators switch to shorebird eggs and chicks (Niles et al. 2008, p. 
101; COSEWIC 2007, p. 19; Meltofte et al. 2007, p. 21; USFWS 2003, p. 
23; Blomqvist et al. 2002, p. 152; Summers and Underhill 1987, p. 169). 
It is believed shorebirds, such as red knots, have adapted to these 
cycles, therefore these natural cycles are not considered a threat to 
the red knot. What is a threat, however, is that these natural rodent/
predator cycles are being disrupted by climate change, which may 
increase predation rates on shorebirds over the long term and have 
subspecies-level effects (Factor C and Factor E) (Chapter 28 in IPCC 
2014, p. 14; Fraser et al. 2013, pp. 13, 16; Brommer et al. 2010, p. 
577; Ims et al. 2008, p. 79; Kausrud et al. 2008, p. 98). The 
documented collapse or dampening of rodent (e.g., lemmings) population 
cycles of over the last 20 to 30 years in parts of the Arctic can be 
attributed to climate change with ``high confidence'' (Chapter 28 in 
IPCC 2014, p. 14). We conclude that disruptions in the rodent/predator 
cycle pose a substantial threat to the red knot, as they may result in 
prolonged periods of low reproductive output of red knots due to 
increased predation (Factor C). The substantial impacts of elevated egg 
and chick predation on shorebird reproduction are well known. 
Disruptions in the rodent/predator cycle may have already affected red 
knot populations and are likely to increase due to climate change 
(Factor C).
    Other factors may cause additive red knot mortality. Individually 
these factors are not expected to have subspecies level effects; 
however, cumulatively, these factors could exacerbate the effects of 
the primary threats if they further reduce the species' resiliency. 
These secondary factors include hunting (Factor B); predation in 
nonbreeding areas (Factor C); and human disturbance, oil spills, and 
wind energy development especially near the coasts (Factor E).
    In summary, the rufa red knot faces numerous threats across its 
range on multiple geographic and temporal scales. These threats are 
affecting the subspecies now and will continue to have subspecies-level 
effects into the future.

Summary of Changes From the Proposed Rule

    The following minor but substantive changes have been made to the 
listing rule and the Supplemental Document (available online at 
www.regulations.gov under Docket FWS-R5-ES-2013-0097) based on new 
information that has become available since the publication of the 
proposed rule, including information received through peer review and 
public comments. These changes did not alter our previous assessment of 
the rufa red knot from the proposed rule to the final rule.
    (1) We present new data and insights regarding the nonbreeding 
distributions of rufa red knots versus Calidris canutus roselaari.
    (2) We have emphasized and consolidated information about the 
differences between rufa red knots from northern versus southern 
wintering areas.
    (3) We have added new geolocator data and new analyses of available 
resightings data showing (a) movement of rufa red knots between the 
North American Central and Atlantic Flyways; (b) clusters of sightings 
along the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River and its tributaries, and 
other major water bodies away from the coasts; (c) apparent use of 
saline (or alkaline) lakes in the Northern Plains by northbound red 
knots using the Central Flyway; and (d) use of U.S. Atlantic coast 
habitats used by juveniles in summer and winter.
    (4) We updated population information with winter counts in South 
America and the southeast United States. The 2013 red knot winter 
counts in Tierra del Fuego were down to the second lowest level on 
record, while the counts in northern Brazil were nearly double the 
previous high count recorded in 1986. The large number of knots found 
in Brazil in 2013 was likely the result of the survey team experiencing 
favorable tidal conditions throughout the survey period, and this is 
probably the team's best aerial survey estimate to date. In addition, a 
new report from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GDNR) 
based on mark-recapture mathematical models estimated that the northern 
wintering population may be around 20,000 birds; this number is 
consistent with some previous estimates but notably higher than the 
best available field survey from the Southeast of about 4,000 to 5,000 
birds. However, we do not yet have information to determine whether the 
geographic extent of the ``northern'' population in the GDNR study 
includes areas outside the Southeast.
    (5) We updated our analysis of climate change information based on 
new reports from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and 
National Climate Assessment. Updates include:
    (a) The IPCC's increased certainty in the overall trajectory of 
global and regional climate changes over the next few decades.
    (b) Recent assessments of the red knot's vulnerability to climate 
change indicating a large increase in extinction risk due to the likely 
loss of breeding (from arctic warming) and nonbreeding habitat (from 
sea level rise), as well as the red knot's high degree of habitat 
specialization and dependence on ecological synchronicities, and long 
migration distance.
    (c) New reports finding, with high certainty, that arctic ecosystem 
changes are already under way and will continue, in some cases faster 
than previously anticipated. (The IPCC notes early warning signs that 
arctic ecosystems are already experiencing irreversible regime shifts.)
    (d) A new conclusion by the IPCC that the documented collapse or 
dampening of rodent population cycles in some parts of the Arctic over 
the last 20 to 30 years can be attributed to climate change with ``high 
confidence.''
    (e) An updated analysis of threats to red knot prey species from 
ocean acidification, temperature changes, and other aspects of climate 
change. (A new

[[Page 73709]]

report highlights the vulnerability of mollusks (which include the red 
knot's primary prey species in most of its range) to acidification 
(``high confidence'').)
    (6) We updated the best available data regarding current and likely 
future rates of sea level rise. We also noted a new study showing that 
expected effects to migratory shorebird populations from sea level rise 
are disproportionally larger than the extent of projected habitat loss, 
especially for species (such as red knots) whose migration routes 
contain ``bottlenecks'' through which a large fraction of the 
population passes.
    (7) We discussed new voluntary, regulatory, or proposed 
restrictions on red knot hunting (e.g., in Barbados, Guadeloupe, 
Martinique, and French Guiana), but acknowledged that best available 
data are insufficient to determine if hunting is or was at levels in 
South America that may have a population-level effect.
    (8) We updated Federal and State authorities to regulate the 
importation of Asian HSC species, which may pose a threat to native HSC 
populations.
    (9) We noted the results of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries 
Commission's (ASMFC) 2013 HSC stock assessment update showing that, in 
the Delaware Bay Region, there is evidence of increases in certain age 
or sex classes, but overall population trends have been largely stable 
(neither increasing nor decreasing) since the previous stock assessment 
in 2009.
    (10) We updated our analysis of possible undocumented or 
underestimated HSC mortality with new information on poaching, bycatch, 
and sublethal effects of biomedical bleeding.
    (11) We updated the discussion as follows about the Adaptive 
Resource Management (ARM) monitoring efforts to reflect uncertainty 
(due to lack of funding) in ongoing implementation:
    (a) We continue to conclude that, as long as the ARM is in place 
and functioning as intended, ongoing HSC bait harvests should not be a 
threat to the red knot.
    (b) Data necessary to support the ARM previously came from an 
annual HSC trawl survey conducted by the Virginia Polytechnic Institute 
(Virginia Tech) that was ended after 2012 due to lack of funding. The 
ARM modelers are working on the best way to switch to another, newer 
survey, the North East Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (NEAMAP), 
and we support those efforts.
    (c) As of fall 2014, however, these efforts have not identified a 
method by which NEAMAP or other alternate data sets can be 
appropriately used to allow the functioning of the ARM models (ASMFC 
2014b). Stable funding sources for other baywide monitoring programs 
necessary to support the ARM are also a concern.
    (d) If the ARM cannot be implemented in any given year, ASMFC would 
choose between two options based on which it determines to be more 
appropriate--either use the previous year's harvest levels (as 
previously set by the ARM), or revert to an earlier management regime. 
Although the HSC fishery would continue to be managed under either of 
these options, the explicit link to red knot populations would be lost.
    (e) Insufficient monitoring has already impacted the ability of the 
ASMFC to implement the ARM as intended (ASMFC 2014b; ASMFC 2012c, p. 
13). Absent the necessary HSC monitoring data to use the ARM models for 
the 2015 season, ASMFC (2014b) has opted to use the 2014 harvest levels 
which we considered at the time to adequately ensure the red knot's 
food supply.
    (12) We updated our analysis of disturbance with new findings from 
two sites on the Atlantic coast of New Jersey, showing that disturbance 
affected red knots' spatial uses of these sites and displaced knots 
from otherwise suitable habitats.
    (13) We reorganized the wind energy development discussion by 
moving general information on avian collision and displacement hazards 
to a background section, not specific to either offshore or terrestrial 
development. We updated this section with new information including a 
new report on avian vulnerability to offshore wind development. We 
updated our conclusions that collision and displacement risks per 
turbine (notwithstanding differences in specific factors such as 
turbine size, design, operation, and siting) are likely higher along 
the coasts than far inland or far offshore.
    (14) We updated the 50 CFR 17.11 table to add Martinique and the 
District of Columbia. We received new information that red knots occur 
on Martinique. The District of Columbia was already included in the 
known range of the red knot, but was inadvertently left off the table 
in the proposed rule.

Summary of Comments and Recommendations

    In the proposed rule published on September 30, 2013 (78 FR 60024), 
we requested that all interested parties submit written comments on the 
proposal by November 29, 2013. We also contacted appropriate Federal 
and State agencies, scientific experts and organizations, and other 
interested parties and invited them to comment on the proposal. A 
newspaper notice inviting general public comment was published in the 
USA Today on October 3, 2013. We received four requests for a public 
hearing. On April 4, 2014 (79 FR 18869), we reopened the comment period 
on the proposed rule until May 19, 2014, and announced that two public 
hearings would take place on May 6, 2014, in Corpus Christi, Texas, and 
Morehead City, North Carolina. On May 14, 2014 (79 FR 27548), we 
extended the public comment period until June 15, 2014, and announced 
that another public hearing would take place in Manteo, North Carolina 
on June 5, 2014. All substantive information provided during the 
comment periods is summarized above in the Summary of Changes from the 
Proposed Rule and has either been incorporated directly into this final 
determination or addressed in the more specific response to comments 
below.
    A number of commenters, including a peer reviewer, Federal 
agencies, and States, provided new information or clarifications on 
information presented in the red knot proposed listing rule (78 FR 
60024) and its supporting documents. Categories of new or clarified 
information include additional years of population estimates or 
sighting information throughout the rufa red knot's range, status of 
the rufa red knot and ecology in Argentina and French Guiana, beach 
cleaning, sea level rise and its projected effects on migratory 
shorebirds, disturbance, the Deepwater Horizon and Galveston oil 
spills, status of offshore wind energy development leases along the 
Atlantic coast, historical and current food resources and foraging 
habitat, migration and staging areas, updated stopover population size 
estimates in Delaware Bay, State restrictions on importing Asian HSC, 
ongoing management of HSC, habitat protection in Maine, and geolocator 
scope of inference. This new or clarified information has been 
incorporated, as appropriate, into this final rule or its Supplemental 
Document.

General Issues

    (1) Comment: Several public, State, and Federal commenters 
submitted comments on topics related to other issues not specific to 
the red knot listing proposal. These issues include (a) general 
criticism of the Act (funding species' conservation and Service 
employees being a target of litigation, imposing fines that are too 
punitive, having negative effects on local

[[Page 73710]]

communities, producing decisions on which species survive and where 
public hearings are held, and using science that would not withstand 
National Academy of Science Review); (b) the information and analysis 
required to designate critical habitat; and (c) red knot or HSC 
population targets, other species, research, actions, or resources that 
should be considered, as well as where funding should be directed and 
whom the Service should work with as part of ongoing or future 
conservation activities and recovery planning for the rufa red knot.
    Our Response: All of these comments are outside the scope of this 
final listing rule and will not be addressed here. Substantive comments 
related to critical habitat issues will be addressed during development 
of a proposed critical habitat rule for the red knot. Substantive 
comments related to future conservation of the red knot will be 
addressed during the development of a recovery outline and draft 
recovery plan.
    (2) Comment: Several commenters, including one State, expressed 
concerns that the rufa red knot's listing could (a) result in 
restrictions on pedestrian and vehicular beach recreation, additional 
regulatory hurdles, decreased property values, and increased costs to 
otherwise lawful activities, all of which could cause negative effects 
to local communities, economies, and quality of life, and could erode 
the current goodwill of partners to work on red knot conservation; (b) 
result in reduced HSC harvest levels, causing economic impacts to 
fishermen reliant on the HSC bait fishery, potentially shifting harvest 
pressure to areas outside of Delaware Bay, and potentially creating 
incentives to import Asian HSC species for bait; (c) reduce 
availability of HSCs for biomedical uses; and (d) restrict beach access 
for HSC conservation programs (e.g., rescue programs for volunteers to 
flip stranded crabs). Additionally, some commenters expressed 
frustration over existing beach access and management on National Park 
Service (NPS) lands because of other listed species and asked for 
expanded management options beyond beach closures. Conversely, other 
commenters asked for additional restrictions in places like Delaware 
Bay.
    Our Response: While we appreciate the concern about potential 
management actions that may result from listing the rufa red knot or 
any species, the Act does not allow us to factor those concerns into 
our listing decision. Section 4(a)(1) of the Act specifies that we 
shall determine whether any species is threatened or endangered because 
of any of the following factors: (A) The present or threatened 
destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) 
overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors 
affecting its continued existence. Section 4(b)(1)(A) further specifies 
that we shall make such determinations based solely on the best 
scientific and commercial data available. See Our Response 60 regarding 
other implications of listing that we may not consider in evaluating 
whether a species meets the definition of threatened or endangered 
under the Act.
    The Service does not make management decisions about any lands 
other than National Wildlife Refuges and National Hatcheries, but we 
remain committed to working with coastal communities to evaluate any 
effects of coastal management on the rufa red knot, and to implement 
actions in a manner consistent with the species' conservation using 
many of the Act's available tools. We will strive to build on existing 
management practices in local areas to limit disturbance to red knots 
and other shorebirds through coordination and partnership with the 
States, other Federal agencies, conservation groups, and local 
communities.
    The Service does not have authority to directly regulate the HSC 
fishery, but we intend to continue our active role in the ASMFC's 
management of the HSC fishery, and will provide recommendations and 
technical assistance to ensure that future harvests of HSCs do not 
result in take of red knots under section 9 of the Act. See Our 
Responses 45, 46, 48 through 50, 52, 111, 117, 120, and 121 below and 
the Supplemental Document (Factor E--Reduced Food Availability--
Horseshoe Crab Harvest) for detailed answers related to other aspects 
of HSC management, including biomedical use and implications of 
importation of Asian HSC species.
    (3) Comment: Several commenters asked how listing will benefit the 
red knot when its range spans several countries, yet the Act's 
jurisdiction is limited to the United States. Many of the threats 
discussed in the proposed rule either occur only in areas outside of 
the United States (e.g., hunting) or are issues (e.g., climate change) 
that cannot be affected by management under the Act. The Service cannot 
expect to achieve a fraction of the conservation success that has been 
achieved in Delaware Bay, given that the Act's prohibitions do not 
apply outside of the United States.
    Our Response: The Act requires listing of a species that meets the 
definition of threatened or endangered even if we currently lack the 
means to fully abate the threats that cause it to be threatened or 
endangered. Notwithstanding, we disagree that listing will have no 
effect on threats such as adequacy of food supplies and hunting, and we 
expect these threats to be addressed during recovery planning. The 
development of a recovery plan will guide efforts intended to ensure 
the long-term survival and eventual recovery of the rufa red knot, as 
discussed in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60097). While we 
acknowledge that listing will not have a direct impact on those aspects 
of climate change impacting the rufa red knot (e.g., sea level rise, 
arctic and ocean warming, ocean acidification, timing changes in the 
annual cycles of natural systems, possible changes in storm patterns or 
predation pressures), we expect that listing will enhance national and 
international cooperation and coordination of conservation efforts, 
enhance research programs, and encourage the development of mitigation 
measures that could help slow habitat loss and population declines.
    Benefits to the species outside the United States from listing 
include a prohibition on import. By regulating this activity, the Act 
ensures that people under the jurisdiction of the United States do not 
contribute to the further decline of listed species. Although the Act's 
prohibitions regarding listed species apply only to people subject to 
the jurisdiction of the United States, the Act can generate additional 
conservation benefits such as increase awareness of listed species, 
encourage research efforts to address conservation needs, or prioritize 
funding for in-situ conservation of the species in its range countries. 
The Act also provides for limited financial assistance to develop and 
manage programs to conserve listed species in foreign countries, 
encourages conservation programs for such species, and allows for 
assistance for programs, such as personnel and training.
    While we agree that limiting HSC harvests and other actions in 
Delaware Bay have been instrumental in halting (though not yet 
reversing) the decline of the red knot, we do not agree that 
conservation of this species is impossible in other geographic areas. 
For example, the rufa red knot is listed as endangered in Canada and 
Argentina, was recently protected from hunting in the Caribbean, has 
been listed as a

[[Page 73711]]

protected species in French Guiana, and is a focus of active 
conservation programs in several countries including Canada, Argentina, 
and Chile. In the United States, there are ongoing conservation and 
research efforts in many areas outside Delaware Bay including 
Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, 
Florida, and Texas. Many important red knot areas within and outside 
the United States have been recognized as Western Hemisphere Shorebird 
Reserve Network sites.
    (4) Comment: One commenter stated that the Act is currently under 
revision and it is advisable to postpone further listings until the 
changes are finalized.
    Our Response: While we are aware of several proposed legislative 
changes to the Act, those changes may not come to fruition and we may 
not delay implementing the current Act while those proposed changes are 
being debated. In addition to the proposed legislative changes, we are 
actively working on a series of regulatory changes to improve the 
implementation of the Act (see our ``Improving ESA Implementation'' Web 
site for more information: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/improving_ESA/index.html).

Peer Reviewer Comments

    In accordance with our peer review policy published on July 1, 1994 
(59 FR 34270), we solicited expert opinion from three knowledgeable 
individuals with scientific expertise that included familiarity with 
the rufa red knot and its habitat, biological needs, and threats. We 
received responses from one of the peer reviewers.
    We reviewed all comments received from the peer reviewer for 
substantive issues and new information regarding the listing of the 
rufa red knot. This peer reviewer was generally supportive of the 
overall proposal and, in addition to providing further site-specific 
information, generally confirmed our use of the best available 
scientific information. Peer reviewer comments are addressed in the 
following summary and incorporated into the final rule as appropriate.
    (5) Comment: The peer reviewer stated there is nonscientifically 
reported evidence (newspaper articles, animal care center reports) that 
red tide poisoning has caused extensive death of knots on Florida's 
west coast.
    Our Response: We appreciate the peer reviewer bringing this 
information to our attention. Unfortunately, we were unable to locate 
the sources of the suggested information and, therefore, cannot verify 
the content. However, we have obtained a report of one nonfatal case of 
red tide poisoning of a red knot in Florida (H. Barron pers. comm. 
April 29, 2014); the bird's blood was tested and confirmed to have a 
brevetoxin level of 2.64 nanograms/milliliter (ng/ml). Brevetoxin is a 
highly potent neurotoxin produced by red tide events. We have added 
this information to the Supplemental Document (Factor E--Harmful Algal 
Blooms--Gulf of Mexico). Though not documenting widespread effects or 
mortality from red tide, this report does confirm that red tide 
poisoning of red knots has occurred in Florida, which is otherwise 
unreported in the scientific literature.
    (6) Comment: The peer reviewer noted that the proposed rule (78 FR 
60024, p. 60045) states that uncontrolled invasive vegetation can cause 
a habitat shift from open or sparsely vegetated sand to dense 
vegetation, resulting in the loss or degradation of red knot roosting 
habitat. The link between dense invasive vegetation and red knot 
habitat degradation is conjecture and should be strengthened with 
reference to a scientific study.
    Our Response: We agree. We have revised this paragraph in the 
Supplemental Document (Factor A--Invasive Vegetation) to add citations 
to support the statement that uncontrolled invasive vegetation can 
cause a habitat shift from open or sparsely vegetated sand to dense 
vegetation. We have removed the wording ``resulting in the loss or 
degradation of red knot roosting habitat,'' because we are not aware of 
any scientific studies or other data documenting that such degradation 
has occurred. We have instead added the statement that, in nonbreeding 
habitats, Calidris canutus require sparse vegetation to avoid predation 
(Niles et al. 2008, p. 44; Piersma et al. 1993, pp. 338-339, 349).
    (7) Comment: The peer reviewer stated that the Southeast coast of 
the United States is important during northward migration. Many red 
knots marked in Argentina and Chile are seen on the Atlantic coasts of 
Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina during, but not 
before, May. In addition, several other commenters stated the proposed 
rule did not identify North Carolina as having major or important 
spring or fall stopover areas.
    Our Response: The Southeast, including North Carolina, was 
identified in the proposed rule as providing spring and fall stopover 
sites (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, pp. 18, 50-51). Data 
characterizing the stopover usage of the Southeast, including North 
Carolina, are presented unchanged in the Supplemental Document (e.g., 
figure 4; Population Surveys and Estimates--Spring Stopover Areas--
Southeast United States). However, we have revised the text of the 
Supplemental Document (Population Surveys and Estimates--Spring 
Migration) to clarify that our review focused on geographically large 
spring stopovers with multiple years of survey data, but that other 
important spring stopover areas are known (e.g., from International 
Shorebird Survey data, eBird, localized surveys). We have also revised 
the wording of the Supplemental Document (Migration--Atlantic Coast) to 
refer to ``well-known'' instead of ``major'' or ``important'' spring 
and fall stopover areas, since many potentially significant stopover 
areas have been surveyed only sporadically or are yet undiscovered. 
Finally, we have added the information provided by the peer reviewer 
regarding passage of southern-wintering birds along the Southeast coast 
during May (Migration--Atlantic Coast--Spring Timing and Distribution).
    (8) Comment: The peer reviewer stated the proposed rule presented 
comprehensive evidence about threats to red knots during winter and 
northbound migration seasons, mostly focused on the longest-distance 
migrating knots that winter in Argentina and Chile. However, the 
proposed rule presented less information regarding northbound or 
southbound passage of the knots that spend winter seasons in regions 
north of the Equator. One issue that needs elaboration is the relative 
numbers of knots that winter in each of these two large regions and the 
differences of habitat use and migration strategies that exist between 
them.
    Our Response: The proposed rule presented available data regarding 
numbers of red knots in each wintering area (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and 
Abundance pp. 38-45), summarized by Atkinson et al. (in Wader Study 
Group 2005) and Harrington et al. (2010b) regarding differences in 
migration strategy by wintering area (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and 
Abundance pp. 22, 32), and presented information regarding possibly 
greater reliance on HSC eggs by migrants from Argentina and Chile 
relative to birds from more northern wintering areas (Rufa Red Knot 
Ecology and Abundance pp. 31-33). In the Supplemental Document, we have 
added a section (Wintering--Northern Versus Southern) to summarize the 
differences between red knots from northern versus southern wintering 
areas that are discussed elsewhere in the document, moved and 
supplemented information to a new section (Migration--Differences in 
Migration

[[Page 73712]]

Strategy by Wintering Region) on differences in migration strategies, 
and clarified information regarding differential reliance on HSC eggs 
(Wintering and Migration Food).
    (9) Comment: The peer reviewer noted the proposed rule stated that 
red knots require stopovers rich in easily digested food to achieve 
adequate weight gain due to changes in the digestive system that birds 
undergo before long flights. This may be less true for the knots from 
northern wintering grounds.
    Our Response: In the proposed rule, we noted this possible 
physiological difference between southern- and northern-wintering rufa 
red knots (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, pp. 30-31), but we did 
not mention this possible difference in the section cited by this 
commenter (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, p. 17). In the 
Supplemental Document (Species Information--Migration--Migration 
Biology), we have added a sentence to this paragraph to clarify that 
some researchers have suggested that digestive system changes are more 
pronounced, or have a more pronounced effect on energy budgets at the 
stopover areas, in southern-wintering (Argentina and Chile) than in 
northern-wintering (Southeast United States) rufa red knots (Niles et 
al. 2008, p. 36; Atkinson et al. 2006b, p. 41). We have also added a 
cross reference in this paragraph to refer readers to a more detailed 
discussion of this issue that is presented under Migration and 
Wintering Food--Horseshoe Crab Eggs--Possible Differential Reliance on 
Horseshoe Crab Eggs.
    (10) Comment: The peer reviewer suggested the term ``full 
segregation'' is unclear with regard to migration strategies, routes, 
or stopover areas among red knots from different wintering areas. There 
is a good deal of segregation in stopover regimens and in molt regimens 
between southbound knots with destinations in Argentina and Chile 
versus northern-hemisphere wintering birds. There also appears to be 
some degree of difference in stopover habitat use between these two 
groups in northbound migration.
    Our Response: We have clarified the lack of full segregation by 
providing examples in the Supplemental Document (Migration--Differences 
in Migration Strategy by Wintering Area). Also see Our Responses 8 and 
9 above.
    (11) Comment: The peer reviewer stated northern- versus southern-
wintering knots have different strategies in southward migration. The 
southern group has essentially passed through Atlantic regions of North 
America before September, and strongly depends upon being able to 
accumulate fat and protein prior to launching on over-ocean flights 
between North and South America. Northern-wintering birds, however, 
linger on the North American coast (e.g., Massachusetts, Georgia 
coasts), are using ``stopover'' locations as molting areas, and are 
using different food and habitat resources as compared to the southern-
wintering knots. The resource requirements by birds of these two groups 
during southward migration are quite different.
    Our Response: We have added this information with supporting 
citations to the new section of the Supplemental Document (Migration--
Differences in Migration Strategy by Wintering Region).
    (12) Comment: The peer reviewer noted that, historically, oiling 
was perhaps an important problem to knots in Patagonia, and suggested 
limited information was available in the reference Harrington and 
Morrison 1980.
    Our Response: Some of the data from Harrington and Morrison (1980) 
were presented in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60086) from a 
secondary source (Niles et al. 2008, p. 98). We have added the rest of 
these data and this reference to the Supplemental Document (Factor E--
Oil Spills and Leaks--South America).
    (13) Comment: The peer reviewer stated that, although the Costa del 
Este area of Panama City, Panama (referenced in the proposed rule, 78 
FR 60024, p. 60043), is a very important location for many kinds of 
shorebirds, few knots have been reported from here.
    Our Response: We agree that only moderate numbers of Calidris 
canutus have been reported in most seasons from Panama's Pacific coast 
(which includes habitats near Panama City as well as other sites). 
However, larger numbers have been reported from Pacific Panama during 
fall migration. In the proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and 
Abundance, pp. 41-42, 52), we presented available data regarding 
numbers of C. canutus in Panama. We have consolidated and updated these 
data with new information in the Supplemental Document (see Population 
Surveys and Estimates--Central America and Pacific South America).
    (14) Comment: The peer reviewer stated that recently published data 
show dramatic declines and shifting of stopover locations during south 
migration in Massachusetts.
    Our Response: This information (Harrington et al. 2010a; Harrington 
et al. 2010b) was presented in the proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology 
and Abundance, p. 51). We have expanded the discussion of these results 
in the Supplemental Document (Migration--Atlantic Coast--Fall Timing 
and Distribution; Population Surveys and Estimates--Fall Stopover 
Areas).
    (15) Comment: The peer reviewer stated that the proposed rule was 
incorrect in describing only small numbers of red knots on mid-Atlantic 
and northern Atlantic beaches between Memorial Day and Labor Day. 
Currently about 1,000 to 2,000 knots occur on the Massachusetts coast 
during the fall migration period, and numbers were previously much 
higher. Peak dates for these southbound migrants are in July and 
August.
    Our Response: This statement appeared in the section of the 
proposed rule addressing beach cleaning (78 FR 60045). We have revised 
the Supplemental Document (Population Surveys and Estimates--Fall 
Stopover Areas; Factor A--Beach Cleaning) to correct this information.
    (16) Comment: The peer reviewer stated that there has been a major 
shift of key stopover areas of knots in south migration in 
Massachusetts since the 1980s when up to 10,000 southern-wintering 
knots were heavily concentrated on the western shore of Cape Cod Bay 
(Harrington et al. 2010a).
    Our Response: We discussed the findings of Harrington et al. 
(2010a) in the proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, p. 
51). We have revised several sections of the Supplemental Document to 
provide more specific results from this study (Migration--Differences 
in Migration Strategy by Wintering Region; Historical Distribution and 
Abundance; Population Surveys and Estimates--Fall Stopover Areas).
    (17) Comment: The peer reviewer stated that the proposed rule (78 
FR 60024, p. 60046) notes that more red knots were documented in 
northeast Brazil in the 2000s than during the early 1980s. The wording 
of this paragraph could be misconstrued to suggest that habitats were 
improved by the development from shrimp farm ponds.
    Our Response: We agree and have clarified this point in the 
Supplemental Document (Factor A--Agriculture and Aquaculture).
    (18) Comment: The peer reviewer commented that the proposed rule 
(78 FR 60024, p. 60045) stated that beach-cleaning machines are likely 
to cause disturbance to roosting and foraging red knots. This is more 
of an issue with respect to roosting than to foraging. In almost all 
cases, raked areas would be

[[Page 73713]]

beaches that knots might use during high tides for roosting (if not for 
high levels of human disturbance), but not as sites for foraging. Beach 
cleaning generally happens on beaches intensively used for human 
recreation. Because of heavy human use, knots that might otherwise 
roost in these areas would generally avoid such locations. Thus, the 
issue would be disturbance versus beach cleaning.
    Our Response: The proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60077) noted that 
roosting red knots are particularly vulnerable to disturbance. We have 
revised the Supplemental Document to cross-reference this information 
under Factor A--Beach Cleaning, and to note in this same section that 
beach-cleaning typically occurs along or landward of the high tide line 
where red knots may roost but are unlikely to forage. The proposed rule 
(78 FR 60024, p. 60044) states that mechanical beach cleaning is most 
commonly conducted on beaches that are heavily used for tourism. We 
agree that disturbance to red knots from recreational activities may, 
on many beaches, be greater than the disturbance from the beach 
cleaning machines. However, beach cleaning may occur at times of day 
(e.g., early morning, evening) when few recreational activities are 
taking place, thus increasing the total daily duration that knots are 
disturbed by human activities. Conversely, many raked beaches may have 
such high levels of human recreational use that red knots are precluded 
from using them entirely; in such cases there would be no incremental 
additional disturbance from the raking activities. We have added these 
conclusions to the Supplemental Document (Factor A--Beach Cleaning). In 
addition, the proposed rule already described (78 FR 60024, p. 60044) 
physical impacts to beach habitats from mechanical beach cleaning.

Federal Agency Comments

    (19) Comment: One Federal agency provided data regarding the 
seasonality and abundance of red knots in or near units managed by the 
NPS in the Central and Eastern United States. To assess gross trends in 
occurrence of red knots across NPS units, this commenter considered 
vetted eBird data points where birding effort was reported, and found 
that, in the NPS units where most red knot occurrences were reported 
(Assateague Island, Cape Lookout, Cape Hatteras, Cape Cod, Gateway 
National Recreation Area, and Timucuan Ecological and Historic 
Preserve), a clear declining trend in red knot observations was 
detected since 1980.
    Our Response: We thank the commenter and have added this trend 
information to the Supplemental Document (Population Surveys and 
Estimates). The information regarding the seasonality and abundance of 
red knots at individual NPS units will be valuable for purposes of 
recovery planning, management under section 7(a)(1) of the Act, and 
consultation under section 7(a)(2) of the Act.
    (20) Comment: One Federal agency noted that several Navy 
installations within the range of the red knot have Integrated Natural 
Resources Management Plans in place that benefit the red knot, 
including provisions for shoreline protection.
    Our Response: We appreciate this information and anticipate working 
closely with these installations as we develop a critical habitat 
designation, and develop and implement a recovery plan for the red 
knot.
    (21) Comment: One Federal agency commented that the proposed rule 
and supporting document overemphasized the risks to the red knot, and 
birds in general, associated with offshore wind energy development. In 
addition, several States and other commenters stated that wind energy 
development outside of coastal areas is unlikely to be a significant 
threat to red knots.
    Our Response: In both the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, pp. 60089-
60093) and the Supplemental Document (Factor E--Wind Energy 
Development), we have summarized and characterized the best available 
data regarding risks to the red knot from both offshore and terrestrial 
wind energy development. We have made considerable revisions to this 
section of the Supplemental Document to reflect substantive public 
comments and new information (see also Our Responses 62, 134 to 137). 
We conclude that wind energy development, especially near the coasts, 
may cause some unquantifiable amount of red knot mortality into the 
foreseeable future, and that one model indicated this species is 
vulnerable to population-level effects from even low levels of 
anthropogenic mortality (Watts 2010, pp. 1, 39). Unless facilities are 
constructed at key stopover or wintering habitats, we do not expect 
wind energy development, especially offshore or inland, to cause 
significant direct habitat loss or degradation, or displacement of red 
knots from otherwise suitable habitats.
    (22) Comment: One Federal agency stated that, in addition to the 
total number and height of offshore turbines, exposure is a factor 
contributing to avian collision risks. For red knots, exposure to 
offshore wind facilities is reduced because (1) they can fly nonstop 
for 1,500 miles (mi) (2,414 kilometers (km)), which limits their time 
over the open ocean, and (2) birds on long-distance flights, such as 
red knots crossing the offshore environment, fly at higher altitudes 
than short-distant migrants.
    Our Response: We agree that exposure to wind turbines is a 
contributing factor to avian collision risk. The proposed rule (78 FR 
60024, pp. 60090-60091) presented the findings of Burger et al. (2011, 
entire), who used a weight-of-evidence approach to examine the risks 
and hazards to red knots from offshore wind energy development on the 
OCS at three spatial levels of exposure. We concur that the red knot 
can fly nonstop for 1,500 mi (2,414 km) and that some knots have 
limited temporal exposure to the offshore environment (Normandeau 
Associates, Inc. 2011, p. 202). Geolocator data show certain knots 
crossing the OCS as many as six times per year, and because these 
numbers reflect only long flights, more crossings of the OCS may occur 
as birds make shorter flights between States (Burger et al. 2012c, p. 
374).
    It is estimated that the normal cruising altitude of red knots 
during migration is between 3,281 to 9,843 feet (ft) (1,000 to 3,000 
meters (m)) (Burger et al. 2011, p. 346), well above the estimated 
height of even a 10-megawatt (MW) offshore turbine (681 ft; 207.5 m). 
However, lower flight altitudes may be expected when red knots 
encounter bad weather or high winds, and these lower flight altitudes 
are known to occur on ascent or descent from long-distance flights, 
during short-distance flights if they are blown off course, during 
short coastal migration flights, or during daily commuting flights 
(e.g., between foraging and roosting habitats) (Burger et al. 2012c, 
pp. 375-376; Burger et al. 2011, p. 346), as discussed in the proposed 
rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60090).
    (23) Comment: One Federal agency stated that some studies and 
analyses used in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024) fail to distinguish 
between onshore/nearshore and offshore wind energy development. This 
distinction is important because the species at risk and the magnitude 
of the risk can be considerably different. The agency further stated 
that coastal environments generally have higher concentrations of birds 
than offshore areas and that birds taking off from land may fly through 
the rotor zone before reaching cruising elevation. In addition, this 
commenter questioned our conclusions about the risk of bird collisions 
with offshore wind facilities, which were based on a

[[Page 73714]]

scientific paper (Kuvlesky et al. 2007) summarizing research from 
Europe.
    Our Response: In the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60089-60092), 
we addressed separately land-based wind energy development (including 
along the coasts) versus in the offshore environment. Based on the high 
frequency and lower altitudes of red knot flights along the coast 
(e.g., ascent or descent from long-distance flights, during short 
coastal migration flights, or during daily commuting flights between 
foraging and roosting habitats) (D. Newstead pers. comm. March 5, 2013; 
Burger et al. 2012c, pp. 375-376; Burger et al. 2011, p. 346; Stewart 
et al. 2007, p. 1; Alerstam et al. 1990, p. 201), we agree with the 
commenter that collision risk per turbine (notwithstanding differences 
such as size, design, operation, local habitats) along the coasts (both 
on land and nearshore) is likely higher than in areas either far 
offshore or far inland. We have revised the Supplemental Document 
(Factor E--Wind Energy Development--Terrestrial) to reflect this 
conclusion. We have also revised the Supplemental Document (Factor E--
Wind Energy Development) to move the discussion of avian collision risk 
factors (e.g., weather, light levels, lighting, turbine 
characteristics, habitats) and displacement effects to be generalized 
across both terrestrial and offshore wind energy facilities, as the 
citations supporting this discussion pertain to both.
    In the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, pp. 60089-60091), we did not 
attempt to differentiate between nearshore (e.g., State waters) and the 
OCS. Although we still have little information on avian impacts from 
turbines far offshore, we have updated our conclusions in the 
Supplemental Document (Factor E--Wind Energy Development--Offshore) to 
reflect geolocator results by Burger et al. (2012c, p. 373) and 
analysis by Burger et al. (2011, p. 346) suggesting red knot collision 
risk may decrease far offshore. Finally, we have removed the following 
statement from the Supplemental Document (Factor E--Wind Energy 
Development--Offshore): ``Research from Europe, where several offshore 
wind facilities are in operation, suggests that bird collision rates 
with offshore turbines may be higher than for turbines on land.'' Upon 
further review of the source cited for this statement (Kuvlesky et al. 
2007, p. 2489), we found that these authors presented results from both 
coastal and nearshore wind facilities. Further, these authors went on 
to present countervailing findings from other studies, and did not cite 
any studies from wind turbines located far offshore. Therefore, we 
reasoned that this statement from the Kuvlesky et al. 2007 paper was 
not appropriate to include in this final rule.
    (24) Comment: One Federal agency commented that the Bureau of Ocean 
Energy Management (BOEM) has worked with State Task Forces to determine 
the best locations for wind energy development to help avoid impacts. 
For example, areas being considered are greater than 9 mi (14 km) 
offshore; the Virginia lease area is 23.5 nautical miles (nm) (43.5 km) 
from Virginia Beach.
    Our Response: We concur that siting far offshore may succeed in 
reducing overall avian collision hazards, including for red knots, 
although species that rely on the offshore environment for breeding, 
feeding, or sheltering (e.g., certain seabirds and waterfowl) may have 
increased exposure risk to turbines farther offshore. We appreciate the 
work of BOEM to evaluate and minimize avian collision risks in siting 
decisions, and this information has been added to the Supplement 
Document (Factor E--Wind Energy Development--Offshore). However, we 
also updated this section of the Supplemental Document to compare these 
distances offshore with red knot use areas delineated by Burger et al. 
(2012c, p. 373) based on geolocator results, which do appear to have 
some overlap with both the offshore commercial wind energy development 
leases executed to date and the Wind Energy Areas (WEA) where BOEM will 
focus for future leases, including areas off the mouth of Delaware Bay 
(BOEM undated, p. 1).
    (25) Comment: One Federal agency stated that BOEM recently 
published a study on the relative vulnerability of migratory bird 
species to offshore wind energy projects on the Atlantic OCS; the study 
ranked the relative vulnerability of 177 migratory bird species to 
collision and displacement by offshore wind turbines. The relative 
collision vulnerability of red knot was ``medium'' and the relative 
vulnerability to displacement ``low.''
    Our Response: We have reviewed this report and incorporated the 
findings into the Supplemental Document (Factor E--Wind Energy 
Development--Offshore). We note that some of the factors considered in 
this report are not specific to the rufa subspecies of Calidris 
canutus, and thus the numerical vulnerability scores are not applicable 
to rufa.

Comments From States

    (26) Comment: One State expressed disappointment in the Service's 
communication regarding the proposed rule. Because of the wide 
geographic scope of this listing proposal, the Service should have 
engaged all of the State wildlife agencies for their input prior to 
publication and should have briefed the State agency directors about 
the proposed expansion of the rufa red knot's listed range. In 
addition, several States and other commenters stated that the proposed 
rule contained inadequate justification for a sweeping change in the 
red knot's range from previous Service documents (e.g., 2006 to 2011 
Candidate Notices of Review (CNORs)).
    Our Response: We regret that this State is disappointed in our 
communication efforts on the rufa red knot proposed listing. We 
acknowledge the proposed range was greatly expanded from what was 
described in the last CNOR update, but the proposed rule (78 FR 60024) 
and this final rule contain our analysis of, and conclusions drawn 
from, the best scientific and commercial data available. Substantial 
new data have become available since 2011, the last year we were 
required to update the knot's CNOR form. We also acknowledge that the 
2011 CNOR form indicates the rufa red knot's range is limited to 
coastal areas and did not include interior portions of the coastal 
States or any inland States. The 2011 CNOR was based on the best data 
available at the time. Our understanding of the species' biology and 
occurrence records evolved rapidly based on results from geolocator 
research followed by enhanced analysis of national and regional 
databases. The proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, pp. 
21, 23) explained the best available data and supported the expanded 
geographic scope of analysis under the Act. The discussion of these 
data has been updated and expanded in the Supplemental Document 
(Species Nonbreeding Distributions; Migration--Midcontinent; Migration 
and Wintering Habitat--Inland; Population Surveys and Estimates--Inland 
Areas Spring and Fall). We will strive to improve our communication 
with the States as we greatly value our conservation partnerships.
    (27) Comment: Several States and other commenters stated that the 
proposed rule is generally lacking in scientific evidence and is based 
on speculative information. For example, (1) in the proposed rule, the 
Service repeatedly made undocumented claims and speculated that a 
variety of items ``may'' be a factor that could cause the demise of the 
species; (2) in describing threats and risks to the red knot, the 
proposed rule used terms such as high uncertainty, expected, likely, 
may, could, possibly, and unknown but

[[Page 73715]]

possible; (3) although the best available science has been used to 
generate predictions about some possible future impacts, best available 
science has not been used to examine and explain the relevance of 
potential threats (e.g., sea level rise, climate change) to recent red 
knot population trends; (4) because of the potentially serious 
ramifications of a Federal listing on Federal programs and permitting 
processes, it is neither sufficient nor professional to base listing 
decisions so heavily upon speculation; and (5) the principle of best 
available science must be used to demonstrate causal relationships 
between threats and population change. In a related comment, one 
commenter stated that it is well-established that the Act does not 
provide for the listing of species on the basis of speculative, 
uncertain, or inconclusive information. A number of courts (i.e., 
Conner v. Burford, Trout Unlimited v. Lohn, Ctr. for Biological 
Diversity v. Lubchenco, Bennett v. Spear, and Nat'l Res. Council v. 
Daley) have determined that the threshold decision to list a species as 
threatened or endangered is not to be based on speculation or a 
misplaced intent to err on the side of species conservation. The 
default position for all species is that they are not protected under 
the Act.
    Our Response: We disagree that our analysis is ``speculative.'' The 
Service is required to make listing determinations based on the best 
scientific and commercial data available. Sources of data include peer-
reviewed journal articles; field notes and other unpublished data; and 
personal communications with species, habitat, and policy experts. We 
analyze these sources of data and use our best professional judgment to 
determine their credibility, in accordance with applicable data 
standards (Interagency Policy on Information Standards Under the 
Endangered Species Act (59 FR 34271); Information Quality Act (P.L. 
106-554, section 515); Information Quality Guidelines and Peer Review 
(USFWS 2012f, entire). All data have some level of uncertainty, but the 
proposed rule properly identified, through citations, the data sources 
and was transparent in qualifying areas and levels of uncertainty.
    In making a listing determination, we evaluate the threats 
affecting a species in the past, currently, and into the foreseeable 
future. What constitutes the foreseeable future may be different for 
each threat, given our confidence in the sources of the data and their 
level of certainty regarding future conditions. The proposed rule and 
Supplemental Document discuss what information we can reliably use to 
reasonably foresee into the future. As discussed below, the Act and our 
policies do not require a definitive knowledge of what will happen in 
the future, only what we may reasonably predict is likely to occur. 
Although there is some inherent uncertainty surrounding the threats we 
evaluated for the red knot, this does not prevent us from making a 
credible assessment of the likely direction and magnitude of those 
impacts, even though it may not be possible to make such predictions 
with precision. In addition, the proposed rule and its underlying data 
were available for peer review and extensive public review and comment, 
but the commenters did not provide additional substantive information 
to refute our analysis or assumptions.
    Under section 4 of the Act, a species shall be listed if it meets 
the definition of threatened or endangered because of any (one or more) 
of the five factors that are a basis for making a listing 
determination, considering solely best available scientific and 
commercial data. Although many species proposed for listing have 
undergone, or are undergoing, a population decline, declining numbers 
(rangewide or in portions of the range) are not necessary for listing 
if a species is facing sufficient threats, now or in the foreseeable 
future, to meet the definition of threatened or endangered. 
Accordingly, not all threats contributing to a species' threatened or 
endangered status must be tied to past or ongoing population declines; 
threats for which the species is listed may not be affecting the 
species at the time it is being evaluated for listing, but are likely 
to do so in the future.
    The commenter is incorrect in asserting that ``the default position 
for all species is that they are not protected under the Act,'' or that 
listings must be based on conclusive evidence. As stated above, the Act 
and our policies do not require a definitive knowledge of what will 
happen in the future, only what we may reasonably predict is likely to 
occur when making a listing determination.
    Further, our decisions are not based on speculation or misplaced 
intentions. The Act requires the Service to base its listing 
determination on the ``best scientific and commercial data available'' 
(16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(1)(A)). The ``best available science'' requirement 
does not equate to the best possible science. Instead, this information 
standard simply prohibits the Service from disregarding available 
scientific evidence that is better than the evidence it initially 
relied upon. The Service is required to rely upon the best available 
science, even if that science is uncertain or even ``quite 
inconclusive'' (i.e., Trout Unlimited v. Lohn, 645 F. Supp. 2d 929, 947 
(D. Or. 2007) (``Trout Unlimited''); Southwest Center for Biological 
Diversity v. Babbitt, 215 F.3d 58, 60, 342 U.S. App. D.C. 58 (D.C. Cir. 
2000)). The case law cited by the commenters supports this position.
    In distinguishing endangered from threatened, Congress defined 
``threatened'' species as a species that is ``likely to become an 
endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range'' (16 U.S.C. 1532(20)) (emphasis 
added). Courts have acknowledged the word ``likely'' clearly means 
something less than 100 percent certain (Trout Unlimited at 947). 
Moreover, courts have found that an agency is entitled to particular 
deference where it has drawn conclusions from scientific data (i.e., 
Marsh v. Or. Natural Res. Council, 490 U.S. 360, 375-77 (1989); Ethyl 
Corp. v. EPA, 541 F.2d 1, 36 (D.C. Cir. 1976); Oceana v. Evans, 384 F. 
Supp. 2d 203, 219 (D.D.C. 2005) (citing cases)).
    (28) Comment: Several States and other commenters stated that the 
rufa red knot geographic range should include only areas where the 
species occurs regularly (annually or near annually), and should avoid 
identifying jurisdictions (e.g., States) merely because they represent 
continuous geographies between discrete regularly used stopover sites. 
As presented in the proposed rule, the red knot range is inconsistent 
with how the Service has defined the range of other listed migratory 
birds. These commenters also noted that although eBird is a useful 
resource, the Service should not have used it as the sole source for 
determining the species' range in a listing process, and suggested a 
more thorough and comprehensive review of occurrence records should be 
conducted.
    Our Response: In both the proposed and final rules, we have defined 
the rufa red knot's range based on the best available data; however, we 
recognize that scientific understanding of this species' range will 
likely continue to improve over time. The Service may define a species' 
range using State boundaries or other geographically appropriate scale. 
How range is defined depends on characteristics of the species' biology 
and how it is listed (i.e., as species/subspecies or a distinct 
population segment (DPS)). A species' or subspecies' range is typically 
described at the state or country scale. While the range of a DPS 
listing can include entire States, it is more typically defined at a 
more refined geographic scale because we must define where the discrete 
entity occurs.

[[Page 73716]]

    We defined the rufa red knot's range based on the data from 
reliable published scientific literature, submitted manuscripts, and 
species' experts; occurrence data; and analysis (e.g., estimated flight 
paths based on known wintering and breeding grounds combined with 
siting records). The regulations at 50 CFR 17.11(e) state, the 
``historic range'' indicates the known general distribution of the 
species or subspecies as reported in the scientific literature. The 
present distribution may be greatly reduced from this historic range. 
This column [in the table at 50 CFR 17.11(h)] does not imply any 
limitations on the application of the prohibitions in the Act or 
implementing rules. Such prohibitions apply to all individuals of the 
species, wherever found [emphasis added]. Therefore, whether a specific 
State or geographic area is included or excluded from the textual 
description of the rufa red knot's range, the subspecies would be 
protected under the Act wherever it may be found, for as long as it 
remains federally listed. (See also Our Response 33 below.) Although a 
species is listed wherever found, we strive to accurately describe the 
range in the 50 CFR 17.11 table based on the best available data at the 
time of listing. For earlier listed species such as the piping plover 
and Kirtland's warbler, certain tools to help us understand the 
migration routes of birds (e.g., satellite transmitters, geolocators, 
eBird) were not available at the time.
    See Our Response 82 for explanation of how we have interpreted and 
utilized eBird data. We did not solely rely on eBird data to determine 
the rufa red knot's range. In addition to eBird, we also relied heavily 
on Newstead et al. 2013 (draft manuscript we had at the time) and 
Morrison and Harrington 1992, and to a lesser degree on Skagen et al. 
1999. These four sources constituted the best available data at the 
time. For this final rule, we have also considered an analysis for the 
Mississippi Flyway done by our Midwest Region Migratory Bird Program 
(Russell 2014), the State reports provided by the Central Flyway 
Council and other commenters, updated versions of Newstead et al. 
(2013) and Carmona et al. (2013), and all other relevant new 
information we have received since March 2013 when we completed 
drafting of the proposed rule. These new sources further validate our 
assumptions and conclusions outlined in the proposed rule. See Our 
Response 35, below, and the Supplemental Document (Subspecies 
Nonbreeding Distribution) regarding how we have delineated the 
nonbreeding ranges of C.c. rufa versus C.c. roselaari based on the best 
available data.
    (29) Comment: Several commenters, including States, stated that 
they were unaware of any reliably used stopover sites for the red knot 
in the interior portion of the United States. These commenters 
contended that bird occurrence data do not support the existence of 
stopover sites (defined as habitats or locations that consistently 
provide migrants with the opportunity to refuel and rest) within the 
Central Flyway States, and that observed behavior and diet reinforce 
the concept that red knots do not regularly use and do not require any 
inland wetland locations as stopover sites within the interior of the 
Central Flyway. Further, most interior records are for vagrant, single 
birds, and interior sightings are so sparse that they are ecologically 
insignificant. These State commenters specifically requested removal of 
their particular States from the range, and requested that listing of 
the rufa red knot not confer any requirements for any Federal or State 
agency or private landowner. Conversely, one commenter rebutted that, 
as is frequently the case for ``jump'' migrants, periodic weather 
events or other circumstances occasionally result in birds being 
grounded in locations or habitats that are only infrequently used along 
the flyway. This commenter also stated that while this may be the case 
for some of the interior areas, recent communications with biologists 
working in North Dakota indicate that habitats in this region (e.g., 
Missouri River sandbars) are far more regularly used than eBird records 
or other databases would indicate. Further, additional unpublished 
geolocator tracks also show use of sites throughout the Missouri 
Coteau, on both U.S. and Canadian sides of the border, as spring 
migration stopovers. This commenter stated that the Service should make 
a more complete assessment of the occurrence of the species in North 
Dakota, and possibly other States, by contacting other biologists that 
may have additional information that is not captured in electronic 
databases.
    Our Response: We also are unaware of any consistently used rufa red 
knot stopover sites in the U.S. portion of the Central Flyway. However, 
all three of our primary sources (Newstead et al. 2013, Skagen et al. 
1999, and eBird.org 2014) suggest that habitats in the plains of 
southern Canada (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba) are routinely relied 
upon by migrating knots at least under certain conditions (e.g., 
favorable water levels). In addition, from the relatively small sample 
size in Newstead et al. (2013, p. 56), one of six birds used North 
Dakota for 14 days in spring. We do not yet know how aberrant or 
representative this bird was, but these results indicate the 
possibility that the documented Northern Plains stopover region may be 
found to extend into the United States, as research on midcontinental 
migrants continues. This possibility is supported by the new geolocator 
information regarding additional knots on the U.S. side of the Missouri 
Coteau (D. Newstead pers. comm. May 8, 2014), including three in 
northern North Dakota, two in northern Montana, and one possibly 
further south (e.g., Nebraska) (D. Newstead pers. comm. May 16, 2014). 
Newstead et al. (2013, p. 56) found that the Northern Plains were used 
as a northbound stopover by five of six birds in 2010 (including the 
one in North Dakota), with the sixth bird using Hudson Bay. Hudson Bay 
was used by three of three birds in 2011. Although the sample size 
(e.g., recovered geolocators) is small, a large proportion of the 
recovered geolocators show red knots using a midcontinental flyway. 
Therefore, these results suggest that, in years when conditions favor 
it, a large proportion of midcontinental migrants may use Northern 
Plains stopovers in spring. In addition, birds using the Northern 
Plains as a spring stopover stayed an average of 16.2 days (Newstead et 
al. 2013, Table 3); this was not a short stop but actually similar to 
the stopover duration in Delaware Bay.
    In the proposed rule, we did not define ``stopover site.'' In the 
Supplemental Document (Migration--Stopover Areas), we have added 
clarification that places where migrant birds stop to rest, drink, and 
eat are often described as either stopover or staging sites, with the 
two terms frequently used interchangeably (Warnock 2010, p. 621). We 
have adopted the definitions of Warnock (2010, p. 621) that all sites 
where migrants rest and feed are stopover sites, while staging sites 
are a subset of stopovers that provide abundant and predictable food 
resources without which birds would incur significant fitness costs.
    We agree that many of the inland red knot sightings to date 
represent single birds. However, we understand the term ``vagrant'' to 
mean a bird that has strayed or been blown far from its usual range or 
migratory route; synonymous with ``accidental.'' According to Russell 
(2014, p. 1), ``accidental'' implies an extraordinary record, out of 
the normal pattern, and unlikely to occur again. Based on this 
understanding of the term,

[[Page 73717]]

we disagree with characterizing rufa red knots in the Central Flyway as 
vagrant, based on geolocator results showing that the midcontinent does 
constitute the most prevalent migratory route for at least some birds 
that winter in Texas (D. Newstead pers. comm. May 8, 2014; Newstead et 
al. 2013, entire). Based on these geolocator data, we conclude that a 
substantial proportion of Texas-wintering knots pass over the Central 
Flyway twice annually during migration. Other than the Northern Plains 
of southern Saskatchewan (and potentially extending into the northern 
U.S. plains), we are not currently aware of any other stopover sites in 
the Central Flyway that are routinely or intermittently relied upon by 
a substantial number of birds.
    Further, there are clusters of sightings records in both the 
midcontinent and further east through the Mississippi Valley and along 
the Great Lakes. These cluster areas warrant further study to more 
fully evaluate their usage as red knot stopovers. (See Supplemental 
Document section Migration--Midcontinent--Stopovers.) As recommended by 
one commenter, we anticipate a more complete assessment of unpublished 
or anecdotal sightings data in the course of recovery planning. The 
existence of such additional sightings data, and the geographic 
clustering of the eBird data along water bodies, suggest that some 
inland areas may, upon further study, be found to routinely or 
intermittently support roosting and feeding red knots during migration.
    (30) Comment: Several States and other commenters noted Newstead et 
al.'s (2013) findings that more than 10,000 red knots from the Atlantic 
coast have been uniquely marked. These commenters highlighted the 
authors' conclusion that ``The paucity of resightings in Texas suggests 
that most of these knots probably do not share the same wintering or 
stopover sites as those associated with the West Atlantic flyway.''
    Our Response: We agree that available data do not show any use of a 
midcontinental (inland Texas through North Dakota) flyway by knots 
known to winter or stopover along the U.S. Atlantic coast. However, 
Newstead et al. 2013 go on to say, ``The paucity of resightings in 
Texas suggests that most of these knots probably do not share the same 
wintering or stopover sites as those associated with the West Atlantic 
flyway, though the paucity may be the result of limited effort and/or 
reporting'' [emphasis added]. Indeed, we have updated the Supplemental 
Document with new geolocator data confirming earlier indications (from 
resightings) that at least some Texas-wintering knots do mix with 
Atlantic coast birds during migration, both in Canada (Migration--
Midcontinent--Spring) and the United States (Migration--Midcontinent--
Flyway Fidelity).
    (31) Comment: Several States and other commenters stated that 
records of this species' occurrence in the midcontinent suggest red 
knots use a ``jump'' migration strategy, whereby birds fly over the 
Southern and Central Great Plains and stopover at sites in the Northern 
Great Plains, principally in Southern Canada. Further, both spring and 
fall migrations involve a single 2- or 3-day flight between the Gulf 
coast and Canada.
    Our Response: We agree that this picture of midcontinent migration 
(long ``jumps'' mainly to Southern Canada) is consistent with best 
available data. However, that body of available data (mainly Newstead 
et al. 2013, Skagen et al. 1999, and eBird.org 2014) is not extensive. 
Newstead et al. (2013) did find 2- or 3-day migration flights between 
Texas and the northern stopovers, based on a sample size of eight 
geolocators, some of which had been carried by the same birds for 2 
full years. In addition to Newstead's research, our review of reliable 
national and regional occurrence data (Central Flyway Council 2013; 
eBird 2012; A. Simnor pers. comm. October 15, 2012) found multiple rufa 
red knot sighting records in every interior State. See Our Response 29 
for discussion of potential stopover areas in the interior United 
States.
    (32) Comment: Several States and other commenters stated that a 
separate population of rufa red knots exists in the midcontinent of the 
United States and this population may constitute a DPS; therefore, a 
DPS analysis should be conducted. Further, these commenters stated that 
there is no compelling evidence that the midcontinental population 
meets the definition of threatened and none of the threats affecting 
the Atlantic coast population are applicable to the midcontinental 
population.
    Our Response: Under the Act, we may list a species, subspecies, or 
a DPS of a vertebrate species. The Act's definition of ``species'' 
includes ``any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any 
distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or 
wildlife which interbreed when mature.'' We have no evidence that the 
rufa red knot is composed of separate populations that may warrant 
protection of the Act at less than the subspecies level. Based on the 
best scientific and commercial data available, we determined the rufa 
subspecies of the red knot to warrant listing as threatened throughout 
its entire range.
    (33) Comment: Several States and other commenters stated that 
giving infrequently or unused areas the same standing as regularly used 
and critically important sites ultimately hinders conservation efforts 
and is counterproductive. Listing in the Central Flyway States will 
result in expenditure of resources and create unnecessary bureaucracy 
(e.g., to conduct consultations) in areas with little to no occupancy, 
potentially diverting resources away from coastal habitats where they 
would have substantially greater conservation benefit. Further, listing 
in the Central Flyway States has no conceivable conservation benefit to 
red knots or to noncoastal wetland habitats, which already derive 
protection from other listed species like the piping plover, whooping 
crane, and interior least tern.
    Our Response: We disagree. The Service must make its determination 
on whether a species, subspecies, or DPS meets the definition of 
threatened or endangered based solely on the best available scientific 
and commercial data. This determination is based only on an analysis of 
the population and threats affecting the species as set forth under 
sections 4(a) and 4(b) of the Act. The extent to which a potential 
listing will or will not advance the conservation of any particular 
ecosystem (e.g., noncoastal wetlands) is not a factor we may consider 
when determining whether a species meets the definition of threatened 
or endangered, nor may we consider economic information, including 
workload implications. As discussed above in Our Response 28, the 
provisions of the Act apply to all individuals of a listed species 
wherever found (emphasis added). Upon listing, therefore, the rufa red 
knot is protected by the Act wherever it occurs, even as scientific 
understanding of its range will likely continue to improve over time. 
That said, the Service has the appropriate tools under sections 7 and 
10 of the Act to work with our State, Federal, and private partners to 
appropriately evaluate the likelihood of effects to red knots stemming 
from proposed activities. Such evaluations will be based on the 
species' level of exposure to the proposed activity, including the 
frequency and consistency of the species' occurrence in the affected 
area, and the type of activity, including its timing and duration. 
These evaluations may be done at different geographic scales.

[[Page 73718]]

    During the recovery planning process we will focus on those 
stopover sites, both coastal and inland, that support the largest 
concentrations of birds, based on best available data. Inland habitats 
could be an important feature for certain flyways at certain times 
(e.g., during particular weather conditions). Based on best available 
information, the Texas-wintering birds using the Central Flyway are 
important to the red knot's overall conservation because these birds 
contribute to the subspecies' resiliency and geographic representation. 
Protecting these birds and their habitats under the Act does have 
conservation benefit to the rufa red knot.
    (34) Comment: One State commented that, given the longitudinal 
relationship between the Atlantic coast of the United States and the 
Pacific coast of South America, as well as the documented occurrence of 
marked Calidris canutus rufa in Panama and the central coast of Chile 
(Gonz[aacute]lez et al. 2006), it is conceivable that some C.c. rufa 
winter in sympatry (e.g., occur in the same area) with C.c. roselaari 
along the Pacific coasts of Peru and Chile. Further, the subspecific 
affiliation of the knots that winter along the Pacific coast from 
southern Mexico through Chile is currently uncertain (78 FR 60024, p. 
60026).
    Our Response: We agree. We have updated the Supplemental Document 
(Subspecies Nonbreeding Distributions) with considerable new 
information and new conclusions regarding the nonbreeding distributions 
of the rufa and roselaari subspecies, including areas of likely or 
potential overlap.
    (35) Comment: Several States and other commenters noted that the 
proposed rule includes inland States with low Calidris canutus 
occurrence (e.g., Nebraska) while excluding other inland States with 
more numerous C. canutus occurrence records (e.g., Utah). Despite past 
uncertainty, C.c. roselaari is now believed to be restricted to the 
Pacific coast based on current information.
    Our Response: Numerical prevalence of Calidris canutus does not 
shed light on which subspecies (C.c. roselarri or C.c. rufa) 
predominate in any particular area. There is considerable uncertainty 
regarding the subspecific identity of C. canutus in the western 
interior United States, and it is possible that the two subspecies both 
occur in this area during migration. This uncertainty was reflected in 
questions 5 and 10 under ``Information Requested'' in the proposed rule 
(78 FR 60025). Despite a number of population-wide morphological 
differences (USFWS 2011a, p. 305), the rufa and roselaari subspecies 
cannot be distinguished in the field because physical variability among 
individuals results in overlaps in many physical parameters (e.g., wing 
and bill length) between the two subspecies (USFWS 2011a, p. 205; 
Harrington 2001, pp. 4-5; Harrington et al. 1988, p. 441). Because 
these two subspecies cannot be distinguished in the field, other 
methods (e.g., mark-resighting efforts, stable isotope analysis, 
genetics) are needed to delineate their distributions (D. Newstead 
pers. comm. September 14, 2012).
    As discussed under Our Response 28 and detailed in the Supplemental 
Document (Subspecies Nonbreeding Distributions--Western Interior United 
States), we defined the rufa red knot's Western U.S. range based on 
best available data from reliable published scientific literature, 
submitted manuscripts, and species' experts; occurrence data; and 
analysis (e.g., estimated flight paths based on known wintering and 
breeding grounds combined with siting records). While it is possible 
that rufa red knots range nearly all the way to the Pacific coast 
during migration, we do not have any evidence to date (e.g., genetics, 
mark-resightings, geolocator data, or stable isotope data) of rufa west 
of the Great Plains. We acknowledge considerable uncertainty around the 
subspecies composition in the Western States but conclude, based on 
best available data, that the rufa range likely extends to the western 
limit of the Great Plains (as mapped by the Level I ecoregions (U.S. 
Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) 2013a)). See also Our Response 
82 below.
    (36) Comment: One State and several other commenters stated that, 
prior to a listing determination, more information is needed regarding 
the status and characteristics of red knot populations (e.g., 
population status in Texas, connectivity of migratory flyways). In 
addition, gathering more scientific research on the red knot population 
in Texas will improve viability assessments of the entire subspecies 
throughout its range.
    Our Response: The proposed rule presented best available data 
regarding red knot population size, diet, habitat use, and threats in 
Texas, as well as the prevalence and migration patterns of Calidris 
canutus rufa versus C.c. roselaari in Texas (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and 
Abundance pp. 5-7, 9, 14-16, 21-24, 27, 34-35, 42; Factor D pp. 10-11; 
78 FR 60024, pp. 60030, 60033, 60035, 60039-60042, 60044-60045, 60052, 
60056, 60059, 60063, 60078, 60081, 60085-60086, 60089, 60092). Section 
4 of the Act directs that listing determinations be made on the basis 
of the best scientific and commercial data available. We evaluated 
approximately 1,400 references during the preparation of the proposed 
rule, and communicated with numerous species and threats experts, to 
comply with this data standard required by the Act. We solicited peer 
review on the proposed rule. Peer review comments are reflected in the 
Supplemental Document, which has also been updated with new data 
regarding Texas, the nonbreeding distribution of rufa red knots, and 
connectivity of the flyways (Subspecies Nonbreeding Distributions; 
Migration; Migration and Wintering Habitat) that has subsequently 
become available through the public comment period and clarification 
from experts. Although a more complete picture of red knot ecology in 
Texas will be helpful for recovery planning, research to generate these 
new data is not yet available. As discussed in Our Response 27 above, 
the ``best available science'' requirement does not equate to the best 
possible science. We acknowledge certain data gaps (78 FR 60024, pp. 
60024-60025) and uncertainties, some of which are inherent in all 
natural systems and all evaluations of future conditions; however, we 
conclude that the best available data are sufficient to document 
several population-level threats to the red knot, as well as its 
reduced population size relative to the early 1980s, and thus conclude 
that the red knot meets the definition of a threatened species.
    (37) Comment: One State commented that the proposed rule did not 
provide comprehensive population numbers for either the historical or 
current population size for this subspecies or estimates that encompass 
the entire wintering range, the entire nesting range, or all of the 
potential migration stopover habitats along the U.S. Atlantic coast. 
This commenter believes the proposal gave undue importance to 
population trends at only two locations, Delaware Bay and Tierra del 
Fuego, and that maximum percent declines at these two sites are not 
sufficient for an evaluation of the severity of the apparent 
[rangewide] population decline. Further, because the red knot is highly 
mobile and individual birds and flocks appear to be capable of using 
different locations as stopover points from year to year, a more 
rigorous approach than subsampling should be used to assess population 
changes. Another commenter believes 40 years of data are not enough to 
show a trend in red knot populations and the Service

[[Page 73719]]

should look at hundreds of years of data.
    Our Response: As discussed in the Supplemental Document (Population 
Surveys and Estimates), we conclude that we do not have sufficient 
reliable data on which to base a precise rangewide population estimate. 
Thus, we have instead considered the best available data, which 
consists of survey data for specific regions. In the proposed rule, we 
limited our conclusions to trends within each regional data set (Rufa 
Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, pp. 53-54), though we did note a 
temporal correlation between declines at Tierra del Fuego and Delaware 
Bay (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, p. 48). Although we lack 
sufficiently robust data to conclude if other wintering and stopover 
areas also declined, we conclude it is likely that declines at Tierra 
del Fuego and Delaware Bay drove an overall population decline (i.e., 
lower total numbers), because these two sites are believed to have 
supported a large majority of rangewide knots (see Our Response 38). We 
note that our calculation of those regional declines (75 percent at 
Tierra del Fuego and 70 percent at Delaware Bay) are based on averages 
of early and late time periods, calculated to smooth out inherent 
variability in the data. In contrast, the maximum declines (i.e., 
comparing only the single lowest count with the single highest count) 
were both recorded in 2011 and show an 81 percent decline at Tierra del 
Fuego and an 87 percent decline at Delaware Bay. Despite the above-
mentioned limitations in producing a rangewide population estimate, we 
do note that several analyses conducted by others all concluded red 
knot numbers declined, probably sharply, in recent decades. While we 
did not rely on these other analyses, we do note that they are 
independently consistent with the conclusions we draw from the 
available (regional) data sets.
    A more rigorous survey regime to estimate rangewide population 
changes over time may become available in the future. For example, 
mathematical population size estimates based on marked birds were begun 
in 2011 in Delaware Bay (J. Lyons pers. comm. September 3, 2013) and 
Georgia (GDNR 2013). This new method does not yet allow for trend 
analysis because only a few data points are available, and does not yet 
have the geographic coverage to permit a rangewide population estimate. 
However, the Act requires that we make listing determinations based on 
the best available data. The proposed rule identifies and evaluates the 
best available population information, which is associated with high 
confidence in those regions with long time series and consistent survey 
methods (e.g., Delaware Bay, Virginia, Tierra del Fuego).
    We disagree that these best available data cover an insufficient 
time period for trend analysis. Even with inherent annual variability, 
we conclude the available data are sufficient to document a sharp and 
prolonged period of decline in red knot counts in Delaware Bay and 
Tierra del Fuego in the 2000s. Further, we have gathered best available 
historical data dating back to the mid-1800s, as presented in the 
proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance) and the 
Supplemental Document (Historical Distribution and Abundance, pp. 33-
36). Although these historical data do not permit a quantitative 
analysis, they do convey a consistent qualitative account of historical 
declines and followed by, at least, a partial recovery.
    (38) Comment: One State questioned the validity of applying the 
observed decline in Delaware Bay to the entire population since, 
despite its apparent importance, the bay represents only a small 
portion of the Atlantic coast and the potential stopover habitat 
available to migrating red knots.
    Our Response: While, geographically, Delaware Bay represents only a 
small proportion of the total U.S. Atlantic coast, we conclude the bay 
supports a significant proportion of the total rufa red knot population 
during spring migration (Brown et al. 2001, p. 10), as discussed in the 
proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, p. 29). Although no 
current, reliable, rangewide population estimate is available, reliable 
regional population data are available (see Our Response 77; Rufa Red 
Knot Ecology and Abundance, pp. 38-52; and Population Surveys and 
Estimates in the Supplemental Document). We have analyzed the most 
recent estimates of red knot numbers from each wintering region, 
Delaware Bay peak counts from the past 10 years, and Delaware Bay total 
passage population estimates from the past 3 years. Based on this 
analysis, we conclude that Delaware Bay continues to support the 
majority of red knots during spring.
    That said, we agree that extrapolation of population declines in 
Delaware Bay to the rest of the red knot population should be 
conservative and undertaken only when supported by corroborating data. 
In the proposed rule, we presented data for specific regions (Rufa Red 
Knot Ecology and Abundance, pp. 38-52) and limited our conclusions to 
trends within each regional data set (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and 
Abundance, pp. 53-54). However, we also stated, ``the pattern and 
timing of these declines in Delaware Bay relative to Tierra del Fuego 
and other stopovers is suggestive of a decrease in the overall 
population'' (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, p. 48). We agree 
that this statement was imprecise and have revised the Supplemental 
Document (Population Surveys and Estimates--Spring Stopover Areas--
Delaware Bay) to clarify our conclusions drawn from best available 
data. We have also revised the Supplemental Document (Summary--
Population Surveys and Estimates) to clarify, ``Although we lack 
sufficiently robust data to conclude if other wintering and stopover 
areas also declined, we conclude it is likely that declines at Tierra 
del Fuego and Delaware Bay drove an overall population decline (i.e., 
lower total numbers), because these two sites supported a large 
majority of rangewide knots during the baseline 1980s period.''
    (39) Comment: One State commented that the annual variation in the 
Delaware Bay peak counts suggests that knots are capable of altering 
their stopover behavior between years. It is unlikely that the actual 
population fluctuates at the high magnitude reflected in the Delaware 
Bay peak counts; therefore, year-to-year changes are probably related 
to variations in passage rates for birds moving through the region and 
variations in the use of multiple stopover sites.
    Our Response: We agree that the Delaware Bay peak counts are highly 
variable, but conclude that much of the short-term (year-to-year) 
variation can be attributed to the fact that peak counts are only a 
proxy measure for the total passage population. Year-to-year 
differences in the month-long patterns of arrival and departure would 
affect the percentage of total passage population that is captured by 
each year's peak count (e.g., some years more birds may depart early 
and be missed by the late-May peak count). It is also possible that the 
survey date has missed the true peak number of birds in some years, 
particularly after 2008 when weekly, season-long survey efforts were 
scaled back to focus only on the end of May. That said, we also agree 
that red knots may switch between mid-Atlantic stopovers between, and 
even within, years, and that this flexibility may explain part of the 
variability in the data from both Delaware Bay and Virginia 
(Supplemental Document tables 8 and 11). We noted this flexibility in 
spring stopovers in the proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and 
Abundance, p.

[[Page 73720]]

20). Despite the high variability, we attach high confidence to the 
long-term trend evident in the Delaware Bay peak count data, based on 
the consistent methods and observers, particularly during the core 
years of 1986 to 2008.
    (40) Comment: One State and several other commenters stated that 
recent population estimates calculated from resightings of banded knots 
using capture-recapture statistical methods should not be conflated 
with long-term data sets of maximum 1-day (peak) counts.
    Our Response: The proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and 
Abundance, pp. 47-51) did not conflate population estimates derived 
from these two different methods. As we explain in the Supplemental 
Document (Population Surveys and Estimates--Spring Stopover Areas), 
because birds pass in and out of a stopover area, the peak count (the 
highest number of birds seen on a single day) for a particular year is 
lower than the total passage population (i.e., the total number of 
birds that stopped at that site over the course of that migration 
season). For this reason, we have not compared data sets estimating 
total passage population (from capture-recapture statistical methods) 
with those of peak counts (maximum 1-day counts). We present these data 
sets separately in tables 9 to 13 of the Supplemental Document, with 
data updates where available.
    (41) Comment: One State concluded that peak red knot numbers in 
Delaware Bay have been stable to increasing since 2002, while another 
commenter concluded that red knot numbers in Delaware Bay continue to 
decline.
    Our Response: We disagree with both of these conclusions. We find 
that peak counts from 2002 through 2008 continued to show a slight 
downward trend. Peak counts from 2009 through 2014 appear to have been 
stable to slightly increasing, despite lower confidence in these recent 
counts due to multiple shifts in methodology and surveyors. Average 
peak counts for the last decade (2005 to 2014) remain about 70 percent 
lower than during the baseline period of 1981 to 1983. See Supplemental 
Document, Population Surveys and Estimates--Spring Stopover Areas--
Delaware Bay.
    (42) Comment: One State and several other commenters noted that the 
ARM model established a threshold of red knot abundance (45,000 or half 
of the historical peak counts) which, when reached, will trigger female 
crab harvest. As this threshold was derived from peak counts, it must 
be adjusted upward to account for differences in methods before it can 
be judged against new estimates of total stopover population derived 
from mark-resighting data. One State also commented that the mark-
resighting method is of limited value in trend assessment because 
population estimates cannot be made retrospectively, but did 
acknowledge that it is probably the most robust method of estimating 
actual stopover population numbers and, therefore, will be useful in 
developing future trend information.
    Our Response: We agree that the threshold must be revised and note 
that this adjustment has already been made. This threshold, used in the 
ASMFC's management of the HSC fishery under the ARM, has now been 
adjusted upward to account for differences in methodology. In September 
2013, the ASMFC's Delaware Bay Ecosystem Technical Committee adopted a 
ratio of 1.82, and adjusted the threshold from 45,000 to 81,900 red 
knots. This ratio may be refined when the ARM model is re-evaluated in 
the future (ASMFC 2013e, p. 1). We agree that this is a robust method 
of estimating stopover populations, but also agree that the mark-
resighting method cannot yet be used for trend analysis because too few 
data points are available to date. No accurate estimates of the total 
stopover population using the methods of J. Lyons (pers. comm. 
September 3, 2013) can be calculated prior to 2011, when the required 
data began to be collected. However, estimates prior to 2011 are not 
needed to implement the ARM model as decisions on HSC harvest are based 
upon the current populations of HSCs and red knots. For red knot 
population trend analysis in Delaware Bay, we have relied on the peak 
counts (see Our Responses 37 and 39.)
    (43) Comment: One State said that it had difficulty evaluating the 
geographic adequacy of the winter surveys in Tierra del Fuego and the 
southern coastline of Argentina, because these surveys may or may not 
cover a sufficiently large portion of the wintering range to develop a 
comprehensive population estimate. This State questioned if it is 
possible that red knots winter outside of the surveyed area further 
north along the coast lines of Argentina and Chile, or on the Falkland 
Islands.
    Our Response: Much of what we know about the distribution of 
wintering red knots along the coasts of South America comes from 
Morrison and Ross (1989), who reported the results of aerial surveys 
conducted from 1982 to 1986. This survey effort covered nearly the 
entire Atlantic, Pacific, and northern coasts of South America 
(Morrison and Ross 1989, Vol. 1, p. 22). During these extensive 
surveys, Calidris canutus was observed only in Tierra del Fuego and the 
Patagonian coast of Argentina, the north coast of Brazil, and western 
Venezuela (Morrison and Ross 1989 Vol. 1, pp. 37, 40-41). Although 
Morrison and Ross (1989) did not observe C. canutus along the Pacific 
coast of South America, they recorded substantial numbers of 
unidentified medium-sized shorebirds in several locations, including 
some areas with reports of C. canutus from other sources (eBird.org 
2014; Carmona et al. 2013, pp. 175, 180; Ruiz-Guerra 2011, p. 194; 
Morrison and Ross 1989 Vol. 1, p. 40; Hughes 1979, pp. 51-52). In the 
proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, pp. 38-42), we 
presented the data of Morrison and Ross (1989) as well as all available 
results of more recent survey efforts for the known and possible range 
of C.c. rufa, which includes the east and north coasts of South 
America. These data have been updated in the Supplemental Document 
(Population Surveys and Estimates). Based on new information indicating 
that at least some of the C. canutus on the central Pacific coast of 
Chile are also C.c. rufa, we have also added best available abundance 
data for the west coast of South America (Population Surveys and 
Estimates--Central America and Pacific South America). We are unaware 
of any published or unpublished C. canutus reports from the Falkland 
Islands, there are no reports of these species for that area in eBird 
(eBird.org 2014), and no other datasets for the Falkland Islands were 
provided during the comment period. The lack of data may be explained 
by an apparent lack of survey efforts.
    (44) Comment: One State commented that, based upon its review of 
the threats analysis published in the listing proposal, it does not 
find compelling evidence that the rufa subspecies of the red knot 
warrants listing as a federally threatened species throughout the 
eastern half of the United States. Other commenters stated that listing 
of the rufa red knot is not warranted based on a lack of compelling 
evidence in the proposed rule, and that the threatened determination 
relies on speculative future conditions. An additional commenter stated 
that a reasonable determination could also be made that adequate 
conservation measures already exist to reasonably protect red knot 
populations and that forecasting cumulative worst case scenarios to 
determine species risk does not meet the test of 50 CFR 424.4(a)(1) for 
adding a new species to the list of threatened and endangered species. 
Conversely, other commenters stated that we should list

[[Page 73721]]

the red knot as endangered or use our authorities for emergency 
listing, while another commenter mentioned that the previous change in 
the rufa red knot's listing priority number was no guarantee that it 
would be listed.
    Our Response: See Our Responses 27, 36, and 71 regarding how we 
satisfied the Act's information standard. The proposed rule and its 
underlying data were available for extensive public and peer review and 
comment. The commenters did not provide additional substantive 
information to refute our analysis or assumptions. We disagree that 
this listing determination relies on cumulative-worst case scenarios, 
and instead find that the red knot meets the definition of a threatened 
species based on several population-level threats. Particularly 
considering the cumulative effects of ongoing and emerging threats, and 
considering that several populations of red knots have already 
undergone considerable declines and remain at low levels, we conclude 
that the best available data constitute compelling scientific evidence 
that the red knot meets the definition of a threatened species.
    As noted in the proposed rule (Previous Federal Actions, p. 2), the 
listing priority number was changed (from 6 to 3) in 2008. The 
commenter is correct that candidate species of any listing priority 
number are not guaranteed to be listed--new information may become 
available that causes us to change our conclusion that listing is 
warranted. However, this is not the case for the red knot. As for the 
need to emergency list, this request is moot because the red knot will 
become listed as threatened upon the effective date of this rule. As 
noted in the proposed rule (Previous Federal Actions, pp. 1-2), we 
previously determined that emergency listing was not warranted, and we 
had no new information to indicate emergency listing was warranted at 
the time of, or subsequent to, the proposed rule.
    We have carefully reviewed all new information since the proposed 
rule, and continue to find that the red knot meets the definition of a 
threatened species under the Act. We do not find that the red knot 
warrants listing as endangered based largely on the fact that red knot 
populations in Tierra del Fuego and Delaware Bay, although still at 
historically low levels, appear to have stabilized since about 2009, 
suggesting that the red knot is not currently at risk of extinction, 
but is likely to become so in the foreseeable future.
    (45) Comment: One State and an additional commenter expressed 
concerns that threats in other habitats outside of Delaware Bay are 
having a disproportionate effect on the red knot because the Delaware 
Bay remains in a ``depauperate state,'' at least as it pertains to 
shorebirds (i.e., HSC population levels are too low to provide the 
``super-abundance of eggs''). Because of this egg insufficiency, 
threats in other habitats used during the red knot's annual cycle will 
have a proportionately greater effect on red knot population viability. 
Thus, addressing the HSC egg food supply in the bay must remain at the 
forefront of red knot recovery efforts.
    Our Response: We disagree that the bay is currently ``depauperate'' 
for shorebirds, but agree that the HSC egg supply should remain a focus 
of red knot recovery work. As noted in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, 
p. 60063), most data suggest that the volume of HSC eggs is currently 
sufficient to support the Delaware Bay's stopover population of red 
knots at its present size. This conclusion seems to be holding, as red 
knot weight gain was good during spring 2014, for a third consecutive 
year (A. Dey pers. comm. July 23, 2014). However, it is not yet known 
if the egg resource will continue to adequately support red knot 
population growth over the next decade. Thus, we agree that sustained 
focus on protecting the red knot's food supply is vital to the recovery 
of the red knot, and will be addressed during the recovery planning 
process. Further, we intend to continue our active role in the ASMFC's 
management of the HSC fishery. Under the ARM we do not anticipate the 
bait harvest will slow red knot population growth (see Our Response 48) 
(Smith et al. 2013, p. 8).
    We also agree that a number of other threats are likely 
contributing to habitat loss, anthropogenic mortality, or both, and 
thus contribute to the red knot's threatened status, particularly 
considering the cumulative effects of these threats, and that 
populations of this species have already undergone considerable 
declines in key areas.
    (46) Comment: One State and several other commenters stated that 
the Delaware Bay HSC population has not recovered and concluded that 
management of this fishery to date has not accomplished its objectives 
and has proven inadequate to reverse declines. Several commenters noted 
that no class of HSC (by sex or age) has shown any recovery as measured 
by the Virginia Tech Horseshoe Crab Trawl Survey or the Delaware Bay 
16-foot Trawl Survey. Further, positive trends in female HSC 
populations are absent, even after 7 years of male-only harvest, which 
is consistent with significant unaccounted losses of female crabs, for 
example, from mortality caused by biomedical harvest, poaching, and 
bycatch. In addition, one State commented that the 2013 defunding of 
the Virginia Tech Trawl Survey adds to uncertainty that the data 
sources relied upon in the ARM models will be consistently available. 
In contrast, one commenter stated that, while the benthic trawl survey 
is the best survey to support the ARM, a sound strategy has been 
developed to use the NEAMAP data to support the 2014 modeling efforts 
for the 2015 fishery, and the ASMFC Horseshoe Crab Management Board and 
ARM Working Group anticipate the continued use of the ARM framework for 
management.
    Our Response: Numerous data sets are available regarding the 
Delaware Bay HSC population. We rely on ASMFC's periodic stock 
assessments to appropriately weigh and statistically analyze these data 
sets to draw conclusions regarding HSC population trends, as discussed 
in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60066). The Supplemental Document 
(Factor E--Reduced Food Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Link A, 
Part 2) has been updated to include the results of the 2013 stock 
assessment update. The 2013 stock assessment update concluded that, in 
the Delaware Bay Region, there is evidence of increases in certain age 
or sex classes, but overall population trends have been largely stable 
(neither increasing nor decreasing) since the previous stock assessment 
in 2009 (ASMFC 2013b, p. 22). These 2013 stock assessment findings are 
consistent with our conclusions in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 
60066) that HSC population declines were observed during the 1990s, 
increases (though not a full return to 1980s levels) and stabilization 
occurred in the early 2000s, and various data sets have differed with 
no consistent trends since 2005. We note that the ARM framework does 
not define a ``recovery'' population level for Delaware Bay HSCs, but 
instead seeks to set the crab harvest at a level that does not slow the 
achievement of an agreed-upon red knot population target.
    We disagree that ASMFC's regulatory approach has been inadequate. 
In addition to restricting harvests through the Fisheries Management 
Plan (including the most recent iteration, the ARM), the ASMFC has 
taken several proactive steps including establishment of a Technical 
Committee to focus on shorebirds, requesting the establishment of an 
HSC reserve in Federal waters, supporting work on alternative baits, 
and reducing demand by promoting bait-saving devices. These efforts

[[Page 73722]]

reduced reported landings (ASMFC 2009a, p. 1) from 1998 to 2011 by more 
than 75 percent (78 FR 60024, p. 60064). We believe it is premature to 
state that the ASMFC's regulatory approach has not accomplished its 
objectives. Rather, we anticipate that this regulatory approach, 
currently reflected in the ARM framework, will allow for HSC and red 
knot population growth to meet ASMFC objectives. However, even highly 
successful harvest management under the ARM will only meet its 
objectives to the extent that the HSC population remains limited by 
harvest. For example, food resources, habitat conditions, and other 
conditions that affect growth, survival, and carrying capacity of HSCs 
in the Delaware Bay Region may have changed over time and cannot be 
affected by management of the fishery.
    Regarding when to expect female HSCs to show an increase based upon 
existing monitoring programs, several areas need to be considered 
including the ability of the monitoring programs to detect change in 
the populations, our understanding of how the population may respond, 
and other factors such as food availability for HSCs, as well as bait 
and biomedical mortality. Horseshoe crabs take 9 to 12 years to reach 
breeding age, and modeling suggests that it will likely take longer 
than one generation for adult abundance to increase. See Our Response 
49 below regarding possible sources of HSC mortality not explicitly 
accounted for in the ARM models.
    We agree that the Virginia Tech survey is the best benthic trawl 
survey to support the ARM. In the absence of the Virginia Tech survey, 
we support the ongoing efforts of the ASMFC to adapt the NEAMAP data 
for use in the models. However, efforts to date have not identified a 
method by which the NEAMAP data can allow for the functioning of the 
ARM models (ASMFC 2014b). Stable funding sources for the other baywide 
monitoring programs are also a concern. Insufficient monitoring has 
already impacted the ability of the ASMFC to implement the ARM as 
intended (ASMFC 2014b; ASMFC 2012c, p. 13). If the ARM cannot be 
implemented in any given year, the ASMFC would choose between two 
options based on which it determines to be more appropriate--either use 
the previous year's harvest levels (as previously set by the ARM), or 
revert to an earlier management regime (ASMFC 2012e, p. 6). Although 
the HSC fishery would continue to be managed under either of these 
options, the explicit link to red knot populations would be lost. 
Absent the necessary HSC monitoring data to use the ARM models for the 
2015 season, ASMFC (2014b) has opted to use the 2014 harvest levels 
which we considered at the time to adequately ensure the red knot's 
food supply. We have revised the Supplemental Document (Factor E--
Reduced Food Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Adaptive Resource 
Management) to reflect this new uncertainty about the future of the 
ARM.
    (47) Comment: One State commented that recent efforts to develop an 
artificial bait for the conch and eel fisheries could reduce demand for 
HSCs as bait and reduce the HSC harvest, thereby benefitting HSC (and 
red knot) rebuilding. However, to realize a significant benefit to the 
HSC population, the use of artificial bait would need to reduce 
harvest/demand for HSCs to a level below quota levels.
    Our Response: We agree that HSC alternatives offer the possibility 
of substantial conservation benefits to the red knot. In the proposed 
rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60067), we noted efforts to develop an artificial 
bait to replace HSCs, as well as work toward alternatives to the 
biomedical HSC product Limulus Amebocyte Lysate. We have updated the 
Supplemented Document (Factor E--Reduce Food Resources--Horseshoe Crab 
Harvest--Link A, Park 2) with new information on artificial bait from 
the University of Delaware (Wakefield 2013). We support these efforts, 
which would reduce or eliminate the demand for harvesting HSCs. 
However, until bait or lysate alternatives are widely adopted, we 
anticipate that management of HSC harvests under the ARM will continue 
to adequately abate the food supply threat to red knots from HSC 
harvest in the Delaware Bay. (However, see Our Response 46 regarding 
new uncertainty about the future of the ARM.)
    (48) Comment: One State and several other commenters expressed 
concern that, under the ARM, Delaware Bay HSC populations are not 
expected to recover for 60 years. One State indicated that the carrying 
capacity of Delaware Bay for female crabs is estimated at 14 million 
individuals while the current female population estimate is 4.5 
million, and growth to carrying capacity would take more than 100 years 
according to simulations by Smith et al. (2013). Another commenter 
stated that the number of crabs must return to the levels of the early 
1990s to support the recovery of the red knot. Several of these 
commenters believed that the ARM models value harvest (give it 
``utility'') above a speedy recovery of HSCs. Another commenter stated 
that it remains to be seen if the HSC population will respond to recent 
harvest quotas set by the ASMFC and that the food supply for red knots 
in Delaware Bay remains uncertain for at least the near term. 
Conversely, one commenter stated that assertions that the HSC 
population must increase by an order of magnitude to have a beneficial 
impact on survival of the red knot population are not supported by 
defensible data.
    Our Response: We disagree with these conclusions regarding HSC 
population growth rates and target population levels. In a recent 
study, Smith et al. (2013, entire) ran computer simulations to test how 
uncertainty affects the management of the Delaware Bay HSC population 
under the ARM. These authors presented charts with simulated population 
trajectories of both HSCs and red knots. However, these simulations 
were intended to illustrate the role of uncertainty in the ARM 
framework, not to predict recovery times. Because it is adaptive in 
nature (i.e., each year's harvest limits are based on the previous 
year's crab and knot population estimates), the ARM is not designed to 
answer the question of how long it will take to achieve any particular 
HSC or red knot population size in Delaware Bay. The findings of Smith 
et al. (2013) have been incorporated into the Supplemental Document 
(Factor E--Reduce Food Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Adaptive 
Resource Management).
    As explained above in Our Response 46, the ARM framework does not 
define a ``recovery'' population level for Delaware Bay HSCs. We do not 
assert that any particular HSC population level is necessary to have a 
beneficial impact on the red knot stopover population in Delaware Bay. 
Further, we do not have any information to indicate that the HSC 
population must reach carrying capacity--or must return to early 1990s 
levels, or increase by an order of magnitude--to support the full 
recovery of the Delaware Bay's red knot stopover population. Instead, 
we rely on the adaptive, scientific modeling of the ARM framework to 
determine the appropriate HSC harvest level necessary to maximize red 
knot population growth.
    We disagree that the ARM framework values harvest over maximum HSC 
population growth. Under the ARM framework, utility is given to harvest 
(i.e., harvest is ``valued,'' and, therefore, allowed) only when knot 
and crab populations are above a threshold. Although the simulations by 
Smith et al. (2013, p. 8) are not intended to predict actual timeframes 
for population

[[Page 73723]]

growth, they did show that the bait harvest levels allowed by the ARM 
did not slow red knot population growth relative to a complete 
moratorium (see Our Response 121). The simulations by Smith et al. 
(2013) suggest these species will take a long time to rebuild (although 
we cannot predict how long) due to their inherent biology (long time to 
maturity and low survival in early life stages), not due to the ARM 
utility values.
    We agree that food supply for red knots in Delaware Bay remains a 
point of concern. As long as the ARM is in place and functioning as 
intended (see Our Response 46 regarding new uncertainty about the 
future of the ARM), we anticipate future quotas will continue to be set 
at levels that ensure the bait harvest does not impede progress toward 
achieving maximum red knot population growth. However, even with highly 
successful harvest management under the ARM, the HSC population will 
continue to grow only to the extent that it remains limited by harvest; 
other factors affecting crab populations cannot be affected by 
management of the fishery (see Our Response 46 and Supplemental 
Document section Factor E--Reduced Food Availability--Horseshoe Crab 
Harvest--Link A, Part 2). Our assessment of the best available data 
concludes that the volume of HSC eggs is currently sufficient to 
support the Delaware Bay's stopover population of red knots at its 
present size; but because of the uncertain trajectory of HSC population 
growth, it is not yet known if the egg resource will continue to 
adequately support red knot population growth over the next decade. 
This conclusion is unchanged from the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 
60063).
    (49) Comment: One State and several other commenters stated that 
the ARM model is based on a number of assumptions that the ASMFC has 
not adequately tested, and includes a high degree of uncertainty in 
many of the data inputs. These include a lack of information on crab 
mortality to sufficiently inform the adaptive management process. These 
assumptions and sources of uncertainty render the model less risk-
averse than the commenters find acceptable given the dependence of red 
knot recovery on a sufficient growth in Delaware Bay's spawning HSC 
population. Assumptions and uncertainties noted by the commenters 
include (a) the boundary (geographic extent) of the Delaware Bay Region 
(which, if incorrect, could allow for harvest of Delaware Bay crabs 
that would not be accounted for in the models); (b) illegal harvest; 
(c) crabs harvested and used at sea (not landed in any State); (d) 
crabs harvested in Federal waters; (e) bycatch; (f) underreporting, 
inaccurate or missing reporting of the sex of harvested crabs; and (g) 
mortality from the biomedical harvest.
    Our Response: While we agree that there is good correlation between 
declines in red knots and declines in HSC abundance based on the best 
data available, we note that late arrivals of red knots in Delaware Bay 
(for unknown reasons) was a key synergistic factor accounting for the 
knot's decline in the 2000s (Baker et al. 2004, p. 878). We recognize 
the uncertainties and assumptions raised by the commenters. Such 
uncertainties were one reason the ARM was developed, as the purpose of 
adaptive management is to allow decisions under uncertainty. The 
uncertainties and assumptions, many of which are common to all managed 
fisheries, mentioned by the commenters were taken into account when the 
ARM was developed. We have reviewed the ARM framework at length and 
have spoken with the authors of the modeling. We conclude that the ARM 
is risk averse and deals explicitly with uncertainties, and that these 
uncertainties do not preclude effective decision-making, a conclusion 
supported by Smith et al. (2013).
    Updates regarding our previous analysis of each uncertainty or 
assumption are presented below. While the ARM framework does not 
currently account for these factors explicitly, mortality from sources 
other than the bait harvest is potentially reflected in the survival 
parameters used in the ARM. Based on best available information, we 
conclude that explicit addition of these factors to the models would 
not change the harvest levels set by the ARM process. However, we have 
revised the Supplemental Document (Factor E--Reduced Food 
Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Adaptive Resource Management) to 
clarify that we expect the ARM framework will continue to adapt as 
substantive new information becomes available about important factors 
(other than the bait harvest) that may limit the continued growth of 
the Delaware Bay HSC population (see Our Response 50). In addition, we 
note that, since New Jersey has a full moratorium in place, the actual 
harvest of HSCs is less than that recommended by the ARM models.
    (a) Delaware Bay Region boundary. In the proposed rule (78 FR 
60024, p. 60070), we concluded that the ASMFC's current delineation of 
the Delaware Bay Region HSC population is based on best available 
information and is appropriate for use in the ARM modeling, but we 
acknowledged some uncertainty regarding the population structure and 
distribution of Delaware Bay HSCs. The commenters have not provided any 
new data to help resolve this uncertainty, or alternate boundaries for 
consideration. In documenting the technical underpinnings of the ARM, 
the ASMFC (2009b, p. 7) acknowledged that the proportion of Maryland 
and Virginia landings that come from Delaware Bay is currently 
unresolved, but stated that their approach to estimating this 
proportion, based on genetic analysis, was conservative. We have 
revised the Supplemental Document (Factor E--Food Availability--
Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Adaptive Resource Management) to state that we 
anticipate the ARM process will adapt to substantive new information 
that reduces uncertainty about the Delaware Bay HSC population 
structure and geographic distribution. See Our Response 114.
    (b) Illegal harvest. In the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, pp. 60066-
60067), we evaluated available information regarding illegal harvest 
(poaching) of HSCs. We have revised the Supplemental Document (Factor 
E--Reduced Food Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Link A, Part 2) 
to update the poaching discussion with new findings from the ASMFC 
(2014a). Although notable poaching has been reported outside the 
Delaware Bay Region, we have no data to indicate that poaching in the 
Delaware Bay Region is occurring at levels that would have population-
level effects. See also Our Response 52 below.
    (c) Crabs used at sea. In the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 
60067), we discussed the unregulated harvest of HSCs from Federal 
waters that are not landed in any State, but exchanged directly to a 
dependent fishery. We have updated the Supplemental Document (Factor 
E--Reduced Food Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Link A, Part 2) 
with new information from the ASMFC (2014a) regarding the possibility 
of such crabs, mainly crabs caught as bycatch, being harvested and used 
at sea. While there is no indication of the extent or amount of this 
activity or whether it exceeds the legal bycatch allowances that are 
set by each State, there is also no direct evidence of significant 
illegal activity and no enforcement cases (ASMFC 2014a, p. 2; M. Hawk 
pers. comm. May 27, 2014). We continue to conclude that the level of 
any such unreported and unregulated harvest (i.e., that does not result 
in landings) is small and unlikely to have population-level effects (M. 
Hawk pers. comm.

[[Page 73724]]

April 29, 2013; G. Breese pers. comm. April 26, 2013).
    (d) Harvest from Federal waters. Horseshoe crabs caught in Federal 
waters and landed in any State count toward the quotas established by 
the ASMFC. Horseshoe crabs caught in Federal waters and not landed in 
any State (used at sea) were discussed under item (c), above.
    (e) Bycatch. Bycatch was discussed in the proposed rule (78 FR 
60024, p. 60067). We have updated the Supplemental Document (Factor E--
Reduced Food Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Link A, Part 2) with 
new information about bycatch as well as commercial discard. Horseshoe 
crabs caught as bycatch that are landed in any State count toward the 
quotas established by the ASMFC and may be kept only if the harvester 
holds a permit (M. Hawk pers. comm. May 27, 2014). Horseshoe crabs 
caught as bycatch that are not landed in any State (used at sea) were 
discussed under item (c), above.
    (f) Reporting problems. We have no data that underreporting and 
inaccurate or missing reporting of the sex of harvested crabs is 
impeding the functioning of the ARM process.
    (g) Biomedical harvest. See Our Response 50 below regarding 
biomedical harvest of HSCs.
    (50) Comment: One State and several other commenters expressed 
concern that the mortality of HSCs bled for biomedical use is not 
included in the ARM models, and that mortality rates have been 
documented well above those used by the ASMFC (e.g., for assessing if 
the biomedical threshold has been surpassed). In addition, sublethal 
effects on bled crabs are not considered, and the biomedical harvest is 
expected to continue growing. Further, it is unclear if bled crabs 
captured in Delaware Bay are released near the location of their 
capture or nearer to the bleeding facilities, all of which are outside 
of the Delaware Bay region and would represent a loss of these crabs to 
the Delaware Bay population. One commenter noted that the ASMFC's 
Delaware Bay Ecosystem Technical Committee recommended in September 
2013 that the ASMFC investigate options to incorporate biomedical data 
into future stock assessments, which has not been possible to date due 
to confidentiality issues.
    Our Response: In the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, pp. 60064-60065), 
we noted that biomedical collection is currently not capped, but the 
ASMFC may consider implementing action to reduce mortality if estimated 
mortality exceeds a threshold of 57,500 crabs. This threshold has been 
exceeded several times, but thus far the ASMFC has opted only to issue 
voluntary ``best practices'' guidelines to the biomedical industry 
(ASMFC 2009a, p. 18). We also noted that, using a constant 15 percent 
mortality of bled crabs, the estimated contribution of biomedical 
collection to total (biomedical plus bait) mortality coastwide rose 
from about 6 percent in 2004 to about 11 percent in 2011. We have 
updated the Supplemental Document (Factor E--Reduced Food 
Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Link A, Part 2) with new 
information on sublethal effects from bleeding (Anderson et al. 2013), 
and to note that, despite a recommendation by the ASMFC's Horseshoe 
Crab Technical Committee to use of a range of 5 to 30 percent mortality 
(ASMFC 2013c, p. 8; ASMFC 2012a, p. 6), the ASMFC continues to assume a 
constant 15 percent mortality rate for bled crabs (M. Hawk pers. comm. 
May 28, 2014; ASMFC 2013b, p. 9; ASMFC 2009a, p. 3). Available data 
suggest the biomedical industry generally returns bled crabs to their 
waters of origin.
    As shown in the Supplemental Document (table 23), the 2012 estimate 
of coastwide biomedical mortality (about 80,000 crabs) remains small 
compared to the coastwide bait harvest (about 730,000 crabs) (note that 
these figures are not specific to the Delaware Bay Region). Given the 
relative magnitude of biomedical mortality, we conclude that even 
considerable uncertainty around this estimate would not currently 
prevent the ARM framework from functioning as intended. However, we 
support the recommendation of the Technical Committee for ASMFC to 
investigate options to incorporate biomedical data into future stock 
assessments while avoiding breaches in confidentiality (ASMFC 2013e, 
p3). Further, we have revised the Supplemental Document (Factor E--
Reduced Food Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Adaptive Resource 
Management) to clarify that we expect the ARM framework will continue 
to adapt as substantive new information becomes available about any 
important factors (other than the bait harvest) that may limit the 
continued growth of the Delaware Bay HSC population. Such factors are 
not currently well known, but could include demographic and ecological 
constraints on population growth, as well as sources of direct 
mortality that are not currently captured by the ARM models (e.g., 
biomedical, poaching, bycatch). In particular, accounting for 
biomedical mortality may become important if the contribution of the 
biomedical harvest to total mortality continues to increase. It should 
be noted, however, that much of the biomedical harvest occurs outside 
the Delaware Bay Region and would, therefore, fall outside of the ARM 
framework.
    (51) Comment: One State commented that removing Mispillion Harbor 
from the analysis of annual Delaware Bay egg density estimates has no 
biological or statistical justification and introduces bias. The 
Delaware Bay Ecosystem Technical Committee reviewed these data and 
determined that the high egg densities observed in Mispillion Harbor 
are not an outlier because they are consistently high from year to year 
and play a significant role for red knots in the Delaware Bay 
ecosystem. Furthermore, HSC egg densities in Delaware are increasing 
since 2005 (see Kalasz 2013 interim report).
    Our Response: In the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60068), we 
stated that Mispillion Harbor consistently supports a substantial 
portion of the red knots in Delaware Bay, and that exclusion of 
Mispillion Harbor from statistical analyses is problematic. Thus, we 
discussed the statistical relationship between egg density and red knot 
weight gain both with and without Mispillion Harbor, as reported by Dey 
et al. (2013, pp. 18-19). We have added the findings of Kalasz (2014) 
to the Supplemental Document (Factor E--Reduced Food Availability--
Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Link B, Part 2).
    (52) Comment: One State commented that the proposed rule contains 
an unsubstantiated allegation of HSC poaching as a factor impacting HSC 
populations, which is unreasonable given that the current HSC 
population is likely no less than the estimated 20 million HSCs in the 
Delaware Bay in 2003, indications that the spawning HSC population in 
the Delaware Bay has been stable or increasing, the scrutiny and 
capabilities of State enforcement officials, the fact that HSC bait 
prices have increased tremendously in response to restrictions put in 
place (as evidenced by the import of Asian HSCs), and the difficulty in 
concealing large quantities of [illegal] HSCs. Conversely, another 
commenter stated that they have witnessed HSC harvest in a salt marsh 
on the North Shore of Long Island, New York, and found that oversight 
of harvest regulations is lacking. In addition, this commenter also 
believes that the harvest limit is too high.
    Our Response: We disagree with this characterization of our 
conclusions in the proposed rule. In the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 
60066), we reported that the ASMFC's Delaware Bay

[[Page 73725]]

Ecosystem Technical Committee had speculated about possible factors 
that may explain the lack of recent HSC population growth in the 
Delaware Bay Region, but committee members did not reach consensus 
regarding which factors are more likely (ASMFC 2012c, p. 12; ASMFC 
2012d, p. 2). The possibility of excessive documented and undocumented 
mortality was among these factors (ASMFC 2012d, p. 2). Therefore, we 
further investigated several possible sources of additional mortality 
outside the authorized bait harvest quotas, including biomedical 
mortality, poaching, bycatch, and unregulated harvest (i.e., from 
Federal waters and not landed in any State) (see Our Response 49). 
Specific to poaching, we presented documented instances of enforcement 
actions in New Jersey and New York. We have updated the poaching 
discussion in the Supplemental Document (Factor E--Reduced Food 
Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Link A--Part 2) with new findings 
from the ASMFC (2014a), which further document notable levels of 
illegal harvest outside of Delaware Bay, but which have not changed our 
conclusion that minimal poaching (well below the levels that would 
cause population-level effects) has been observed in the Delaware Bay 
Region. Specific to oversight in New York, officials are aware of 
significant harvest pressure in the spring, and anticipate possible 
illegal activity by implementing significant spring enforcement details 
(ASMFC 2014a, p. 1). We agree that the best available estimate of the 
HSC population in Delaware Bay is about 20 million crabs and that 
spawning HSC abundance has been stable, though not increasing (see Our 
Response 109). We also agree that poaching is receiving appropriate 
scrutiny from enforcement officials (ASMFC 2014a). See Our Responses 2 
and 120 regarding the price of bait and the import of Asian HSCs.
    (53) Comment: One commenter stated that dredging beginning in the 
1960s has degraded HSC habitat.
    Our Response: In the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60039), we 
addressed effects to HSC spawning habitat from shoreline stabilization 
including hard structures and beach nourishment, but not from dredging. 
We do not doubt that dredging has and continues to degrade HSC habitat 
in some locations. However, we do not address this issue in the 
Supplemental Document because we have no information that dredging is 
impacting HSC habitat in Delaware Bay, which is the only region in 
which red knots are highly reliant on HSC eggs as a food resource. That 
said, we have revised the Supplemental Document (Migration and 
Wintering Food) with new information that HSC eggs are eaten, and often 
preferred, by red knots along other parts of the U.S. Atlantic coast, 
and may be a locally important component of the knot's spring diet. 
Thus, we anticipate that the recovery planning process will include 
evaluating threats to the HSC egg supply in other areas outside 
Delaware Bay.
    (54) Comment: One State commented that the recent reduction in food 
availability in Delaware Bay was identified as the most detailed and 
persuasive threat, but this threat affects only those birds that 
migrate along the Atlantic coast, and it may not affect all migrating 
birds equally. The birds wintering along the northern coast of South 
America or along the Florida peninsula should have a lesser need to 
gain as much weight because of their shorter migration and may be 
minimally affected by food reduction. Another commenter stated that the 
Tierra del Fuego wintering population, which relies most heavily on 
HSCs, has declined disproportionately.
    Our Response: We agree that best available data suggest southern-
wintering red knots (from Argentina and Chile) are more reliant on 
Delaware Bay than are northern-wintering birds (e.g., from northern 
Brazil and the Southeast), as discussed in the proposed rule (Rufa Red 
Knot Ecology and Abundance, pp. 31-33). We have revised the 
Supplemental Document (Wintering and Migration Food--Possible 
Differential Reliance on Horseshoe Crab Eggs) to more clearly present 
these data, and to emphasize observed differences between red knots 
that winter in Argentina and Chile versus knots that winter farther 
north (Wintering--Northern Versus Southern Wintering Regions; 
Migration--Differences in Migration Strategy by Wintering Area). 
However, we conclude that the best available data are insufficient to 
evaluate effects of the HSC harvest on northern-wintering red knots 
over recent decades, and we cannot conclude they were ``minimally 
affected'' by food reduction in Delaware Bay. We presented information 
about the Tierra del Fuego wintering population decline in the proposed 
rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance pp. 39-45; 53) and have 
revised the Supplemental Document (Wintering--Northern Versus Southern 
Wintering Regions) to clarify and emphasize this point.
    (55) Comment: One State commented that the 70 percent loss of HSC 
spawning habitat in Delaware Bay reported in the proposed rule due to 
Hurricane Sandy is only reflective of New Jersey and not, necessarily, 
Delaware. The State said it is also difficult to determine how the 70 
percent loss was quantified or how much of any such loss can actually 
be attributed to that one event. Another commenter agreed with the 
estimate of a 70 percent decrease in HSC spawning from Hurricane Sandy 
and noted that, while the beach was restored in time for the red knot 
spring stopover because of successful fundraising efforts, a similar 
winter or early spring storm could result in beaches stripped of sand 
with no time or funds for restoration.
    Our Response: As noted in the proposed rule, biologists found a 70 
percent decrease in optimal HSC spawning habitat in New Jersey 
following Hurricane Sandy (Niles et al. 2012, p. 1), and beach 
nourishment is being pursued as a means of restoring this habitat 
(Niles et al. 2013a, entire Niles et al. 2013b, entire). We have 
revised the Supplemental Document (Factor A--Accelerating Sea Level 
Rise--United States--Northeast and Mid-Atlantic--Delaware Bay Horseshoe 
Crab Habitat) to clarify that the 70 percent loss refers to the New 
Jersey side of Delaware Bay only, and that this loss is relative to 
2002 but was identified by Niles et al. (2012) to be mostly a result of 
Hurricane Sandy.
    We agree that changes in storm patterns may be a threat to the red 
knot. While variation in weather is a natural occurrence and is 
normally not considered a threat to the survival of a species, 
persistent changes in the frequency, intensity, or timing of storms at 
key locations where red knots congregate (e.g., key stopover areas) due 
to climate change can pose a threat. Storms impact migratory shorebirds 
like the red knot both directly and indirectly, including through 
changes in habitat suitability. Beach losses accumulate over time, 
mostly during storms, and even the long-term coastal response to sea 
level rise depends on the magnitudes and timing of stochastically 
unpredictable future storm events (Ashton et al. 2007, pp. 7, 9). 
Should storm patterns change, red knots in Delaware Bay would be more 
sensitive to the timing and location of coastal storms than to a change 
in overall frequency. Changes in the patterns of tropical or extra-
tropical storms that increase the frequency or severity of these events 
in Delaware Bay during or just prior to May would likely have dramatic 
effects on red knots and their habitats (Kalasz 2008, p. 41) (e.g., 
through direct mortality, delayed HSC spawning, delayed departure for 
the breeding grounds, and short-term habitat loss) (78 FR 60024, pp. 
60028-

[[Page 73726]]

60029, 60032, 60034, 60037, 60073). This information is presented, 
unchanged and under the same headings, in the Supplemental Document.
    (56) Comment: One State commented that the potential near-term 
threat posed by sea level rise is reduced by the fact that coastal 
habitats are likely to shift and re-form as sea level changes, except 
in those areas that are armored or constrained by coastal 
infrastructure (78 FR 60024, p. 60032).
    Our Response: We agree. However, as noted in the proposed rule (78 
FR 60024, p. 60035), if shorelines experience a decades-long period of 
high instability and landward migration, the formation rate of new 
beach habitats may be slower than the rate at which existing intertidal 
habitats are lost. In addition, low-lying and narrow islands may 
disintegrate rather than migrate, representing a net loss of red knot 
habitat. Furthermore, the extent to which habitat migration is 
constrained by human activity is extensive--about 40 percent of the 
U.S. coastline within the range of the red knot is already developed 
(78 FR 60024, p. 60042). These conclusions are supported by new studies 
evaluating the vulnerability of shorebirds (including Calidris canutus) 
to sea level rise (Galbraith et al. 2014, p. 7; Iwamura et al. 2013, p. 
6; National Wildlife Foundation 2013, p. 28; Whitman et al. 2013, pp. 
2, 19, 64); we have added these updates to the Supplemental Document 
(Factor A--Sea Level Rise).
    (57) Comment: One State commented that, within the listing 
proposal, all of the potential impacts that are predicted to occur as a 
result of sea level rise are based upon geomorphic modeling that 
assumes a 1-meter (m) increase in sea level. At the current rate of sea 
level rise, which ranges from 2.5 to 3.5 millimeters (mm)/year (78 FR 
60024, pg. 60030), the 1-m threshold will not be reached for another 
140 to 300 years. Even the low end of this range is well beyond the 
temporal scope that should be applied to a listing decision.
    Our Response: We disagree with the commenter's projected rate of 
sea level rise, and conclude that appreciable effects to red knot 
habitats from accelerating rates of rising sea levels are likely to 
begin over the next few decades, not centuries (Iwamura et al. 2013, p. 
6; Miller et al. 2013, pp. 3, 14; Vargas et al. 2013, pp. 22, 80; 
Galbraith et al. 2002, pp. 177-178). In fact, erosion has already led 
to loss of roost habitat in Delaware Bay (Niles et al. 2008, p. 97) and 
we expect ongoing erosion due to sea level rise to accelerate. As 
discussed in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60029), and updated in 
the Supplemental Document (Factor A--Sea Level Rise--Rates), the rate 
of sea level rise has accelerated and is ``very likely'' to increase 
further (IPCC 2013a, p. 25). Although estimated future rates remain 
rather uncertain, some research suggests that sea levels could 
potentially rise another 2.5 to 6.5 ft (0.8 to 2 m) by 2100. The IPCC 
(2013a, p. 26) recently concluded there is ``low confidence'' in sea 
level rise projections over 3.3 ft (1 m) by 2100. However, for the most 
recent National Climate Assessment (Melillo et al. 2014), Parris et al. 
(2012, p. 2) evaluated various sea level rise scenarios and have ``very 
high confidence'' that global mean sea level rise will be between 0.7 
and 6.6 ft (0.2 and 2.0 m) by 2100, which is generally the range we 
considered in this listing determination.
    (58) Comment: Several States noted the beneficial effects of beach 
nourishment in maintaining habitat for red knots and other shorebirds. 
These States urged the Service to use caution when discussing the 
detrimental impacts of hard structures and beach nourishment as 
restoration or coastal protection strategies. These States commented 
that experience clearly demonstrates the value of such techniques to 
red knot beach habitats in Louisiana, and that beach nourishment is the 
best and only method to maintain and prevent the loss of suitable HSC 
spawning habitat due to erosion and sea level rise in a hydrologic 
system with limited sediment input, such as Delaware Bay. Likewise, one 
commenter noted that not all portions of the coast are equally impacted 
by erosion (i.e., from sea level rise); thus, restrictions stemming 
from listing should be allowed to vary geographically and should leave 
open management options for habitat and beach restoration projects.
    Our Response: We make a distinction between beach nourishment and 
beach stabilization structures (i.e., hardening structures). With few 
exceptions, we have concluded that hard structures are detrimental to 
red knot habitat (Winn et al. 2013, p. 22). In contrast, beach 
nourishment may be either detrimental or beneficial depending on the 
circumstances (Nordstrom and Mauriello 2001, entire; Defeo et al. 2009, 
p. 4; Rice 2009, entire; Peterson et al. 2006, entire; Peterson and 
Bishop 2005, entire; Greene 2002, p. 5). The effects of beach 
nourishment are expected typically to be short in duration. Human 
attempts to harden the shoreline are considered generally a threat to 
the red knot, because hardening curtails the natural coastal processes 
that create and maintain the most suitable red knot habitats. 
Notwithstanding our overall conclusion on stabilization, we noted in 
the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60037) that, in a few isolated 
locations, hard structures may enhance red knot habitat, or may provide 
artificial habitat. We also noted that, where shorebird habitat has 
been severely reduced or eliminated by hard stabilization structures, 
beach nourishment may be the only means available to replace any 
intertidal habitat for as long as the hard structures are maintained 
(78 FR 60024, p. 60037). Further, wholesale reorganizations of barrier 
systems and the loss of some low-lying islands may occur under 
scenarios of rapid sea level rise, and shorelines may experience a 
decades-long period of high instability during which the formation rate 
of new red knot habitats may be slower than the loss of existing 
habitats, as indicated in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, pp. 60032, 
60035).
    We agree with the commenters that, under such circumstances, human 
intervention in coastal processes may be the only means of maintaining 
shorebird habitat. Due to local and regional factors, Louisiana is 
already experiencing extreme rates of land loss and barrier island 
disintegration; we acknowledge that Louisiana's stabilization efforts 
may be maintaining habitat in areas where it would otherwise be lost. 
We likewise acknowledge the benefits of beach nourishment to red knot 
foraging habitat in Delaware Bay. Thus, we have revised the 
Supplemental Document (Factor A--U.S. Shoreline Stabilization and 
Coastal Development) to further note that both hard and soft (beach 
nourishment) stabilization efforts may also benefit red knots under 
circumstances of rapid erosion and land loss due to accelerating rates 
of sea level rise, locally or regionally exacerbated by limited 
sediment inputs. Coastal management projects generally involve Federal 
funding or authorization and may, therefore, be reviewed on a case-by-
case basis under section 7 of the Act, thus ensuring flexibility for 
geographic differences.
    (59) Comment: One State and several other commenters stated that 
the loss or impairment of other migration staging areas (outside of 
Delaware Bay) is of great importance to the red knot especially at low 
population levels. Geolocator data show that red knots spend 
considerable portions of their life cycle along the Atlantic coast, and 
that their habitat use and needs during fall migration demand greater 
attention. July and August are the months when the

[[Page 73727]]

greatest numbers of red knots occur along the Atlantic coast. This 
period is also the time when beaches and other coastal areas are under 
the most pressure from human activities, thus creating the greatest 
potential for disturbance to migrating red knots. Wintering areas used 
by red knots, particularly in the Southeast, also are subject to 
intense and persistent recreational use.
    Our Response: We agree. In the proposed rule and in the 
Supplemental Document, we present a comprehensive analysis of threats 
to the red knot from habitat loss (Factor A) and disturbance (Factor E) 
throughout its range. Conservation actions to abate these threats will 
be evaluated during the recovery planning process.
    (60) Comment: One State and several other commenters noted that red 
knots are part of one of the largest congregations of migrating 
shorebirds in North America, a congregation that converges along the 
shores of the Delaware Bay and contributes significantly to the local 
economy (e.g., through ecotourism). The threatened status of the red 
knot is substantiated by the similar decline in a long list of other 
Arctic-nesting shorebirds, including other species that use Delaware 
Bay as a primary staging area during spring migration and rely on HSC 
eggs during the spring staging period. Further, listing the red knot 
and creating the basis for recovery will improve the situation for all 
of these shorebirds. Likewise, some commenters concluded that listing 
the red knot will benefit other shorebirds that share its wintering 
habitat in the United States. Conversely, some commenters suggested 
that listing the red knot may not be necessary because this species 
already receives incidental protections due to its geographic overlap 
with other protected species and protected areas.
    Our Response: The Service recognizes the importance of Delaware Bay 
to other shorebird species besides the red knot, and the importance of 
the bay's ecosystem to local communities. We also recognize that 
listing the red knot may bring incidental conservation benefits to 
other species that share its habitats in Delaware Bay and rangewide. 
However, the Act requires that we use only the best available 
scientific and commercial data to evaluate whether a species meets the 
definition of a threatened or endangered species based on the five 
``listing'' factors (section 4(a)(1)(b)). Thus, in making a listing 
determination, we may not consider the implications of possible listing 
for other species, the broader ecosystem, or local communities. (Once a 
species is listed, however, conservation of its supporting ecosystems 
is a principal focus of our recovery planning, and a central purpose of 
the Act.) We evaluated the conservation efforts that are already 
benefitting the red knot, including those that accrue from its overlap 
with other listed species and its occurrence in some protected areas. 
Notwithstanding several important ongoing conservation efforts, we 
conclude that the rufa red knot meets the definition of a threatened 
species, based on best available data. See Our Response 2 regarding 
other implications of listing that we may not consider in evaluating 
whether a species meets the definition of a threatened or endangered 
species under the Act.
    (61) Comment: Juvenile red knot survival and recruitment into the 
adult population may currently be the most significant factor facing 
the species. Over the past decade, juvenile survival has been low and 
recruitment into the adult population has been limited. Little is known 
about where juveniles spend their first 2 years or their survival rate. 
Given the suggestion that their range is in the Caribbean or northern 
South America, there is potential that hunting could impact survival, 
as juveniles would be more vulnerable to hunting pressure.
    Our Response: We agree it is possible that low juvenile survival 
and recruitment may be limiting population growth, and that juvenile 
survival may be impacted by hunting (e.g., if juveniles spend a large 
percent of their annual life cycle in regions where shorebirds are 
hunted, if juveniles are na[iuml]ve to hunting, or both). Because we 
find these theories plausible and worthy of further investigation, we 
have mentioned them in the Supplemental Document (Longevity and 
Survival; Factor B--Hunting--Caribbean and South America). However, we 
note that these theories currently lack supporting documentation. We 
have also updated the Supplemental Document (Breeding--Nonbreeding 
Birds; Wintering--Juveniles; Migration) with the first two available 
geolocator results from juvenile birds showing where they spent their 
first years.
    (62) Comment: Several States and other commenters stated that wind 
energy development was an unlikely threat to the red knot in the 
interior United States because research by Newstead et al. (2013) 
indicates that midcontinental migrating birds travel at a rate of 
approximately 58 km per hour. It is unlikely that birds could migrate 
this rapidly by flying at low altitude. Most likely, these birds are 
migrating at a height of several thousand feet and are passing well 
above all wind turbines and communications towers. Conversely, one 
commenter rebutted that the referenced speed is an average of the 
minimum flight speeds of those individuals. In reality, birds 
experience both headwinds and favorable tailwinds over the duration of 
a 2- or 3-day nonstop flight, which would effectively reduce or 
increase their speed, respectively. It is also likely that the birds 
would increase or decrease their altitude in response to those 
conditions, so it is not appropriate to infer that all flights follow 
the same trajectory or altitude. Further, red knots and other 
shorebirds are capable of considerable speeds in still air, approaching 
or exceeding 58 km per hour. Thus, red knots would not necessarily need 
the wind assistance found at high altitudes to achieve the estimated 
(average, minimum) flight speed.
    Our Response: As discussed in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 
60090), some experts estimate the normal cruising altitude of red knots 
during migration to be in the range of 3,281 to 9,843 ft (1,000 to 
3,000 m), well above the estimated height of even a 10-MW turbine (681 
ft; 207.5 m). However, much lower flight altitudes may be expected when 
red knots encounter bad weather or high winds, on ascent or descent 
from long-distance flights, during short-distance flights if they are 
blown off course, during short coastal migration flights, or during 
daily commuting flights (e.g., between foraging and roosting habitats) 
(Burger et al. 2012c, pp. 375-376; Burger et al. 2011, p. 346). 
Supporting evidence for these expert opinions comes from other Calidris 
canutus subspecies and other shorebirds in Europe (see Supplemental 
Document section Factor E--Wind Energy Development--Offshore). Although 
the aforementioned sources constitute best available information, we 
lack any direct empirical data to verify the typical migration altitude 
of rufa red knots, or the degree to which they adjust their migration 
altitudes in response to weather or other factors. We agree that, 
typically, red knots on long-distance, nonstop flights likely migrate 
at high altitudes of 3,281 feet (1,000 m) or more (Burger et al. 2011, 
p. 346). However, we disagree with the interpretation that the minimum 
flight speed calculated by Newstead et al. (2013) indirectly indicates 
the migration altitude of red knots along the Central Flyway; thus, we 
have not incorporated this interpretation into the Supplemental 
Document. (Also see Our Response 22.)
    (63) Comment: One State commented that the proposed rule failed to 
include the dwarf surf clam (Mulinia lateralis)

[[Page 73728]]

as an important food resource to fall migrating red knots in Georgia. 
This State noted densities of dwarf surf clam vary widely from year to 
year, appearing to drive the number of red knots using certain areas, 
and they are concerned that a number of predicted changes associated 
with global climate change (ocean acidification and warming) may 
negatively affect this important prey item.
    Our Response: In the proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and 
Abundance, pp. 26-27), we noted that the spatial distribution of red 
knots has been correlated with prey availability in Georgia, and that 
the dwarf surf clam is a prey species in Georgia during winter. We have 
revised the Supplemental Document (Migration and Wintering Food) to 
indicate that the dwarf surf clam is also a primary prey species for 
knots during fall. We have also revised the Supplemental Document 
(Factor E--Reduced Food Availability--Ocean Acidification; Temperature 
Changes) to include new information provided by the commenter regarding 
the likely impacts of climate change on the dwarf surf clam in Georgia.
    (64) Comment: Several States and other commenters provided new 
information regarding habitat and prey in inland areas (e.g., some 
knots may use saline lakes in southern Canada, such as Reed, Chaplin, 
and Quill Lakes, that are known to support large, mixed-species 
shorebird concentrations due to abundant invertebrate resources), while 
other commenters contend that red knots may not use inland stopover 
sites during migration because of the unpredictable availability of 
appropriate prey. Within the interior portion of the Central Flyway, 
water levels fluctuate dramatically; therefore, few sites have reliable 
gastropod resources, and none support freshwater mussels at a depth 
that would be available to red knots.
    Our Response: We agree that new information available since the 
proposed rule was published suggests that some red knots likely use 
inland saline lakes as stopover habitat in the Northern Great Plains. 
We have no information to indicate whether red knots may also use 
inland freshwater habitats during migration, but some of the new 
information discussed under Our Response 29 suggests that certain 
freshwater areas may warrant further study as potential stopover 
habitats. We have added this new information to the Supplemental 
Document (Migration--Midcontinent; Migration and Wintering Habitat--
Inland). We also agree that inland prey resources may be unpredictable. 
Newstead et al. (2013, p. 57) supported the idea that inland prey 
resources may be unpredictable, but showed inland stopovers are used by 
red knots in some years. At least on smaller geographic scales (e.g., 
stopover areas in Argentina, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, the 
Atlantic coast of New Jersey, and Delaware Bay), knot distribution has 
been shown to follow areas of high prey availability, suggesting some 
plasticity in migration strategy as prey resources vary in time and 
space (Musmeci et al. 2011). Likewise, Newstead et al. (2013, pp. 57-
58) have suggested that knot use of the Northern Great Plains may vary 
from year to year based on water levels. Geolocator data indicate the 
midcontinental flyway is consistently used by some birds, but the 
stopovers within this migratory route may vary depending on 
environmental conditions. These conclusions continue to be borne out by 
many more geolocator tracks that have yet to be published (D. Newstead 
pers. comm. May 8, 2014).
    (65) Comment: Several States and other commenters suggested the 
Service should conduct a thorough literature review of all available 
resources to determine where the red knot occurs regularly because the 
species' conservation and recovery will be most effective if they 
remain focused on the important coastal habitats that are used by all 
individuals.
    Our Response: We agree with this conclusion, but assert that we 
have already conducted a thorough review of the literature available. 
Identifying and protecting the network of important red knot sites is 
work that has been ongoing by an international community of shorebird 
researchers and conservationists since the late 1970s and continues 
today. The results of this extensive work were reviewed in depth for 
the proposed rule and the Supplemental Document, and will be further 
utilized and built upon during recovery planning.

Public Comments

    (66) Comment: A commenter stated that the proposed rule does not 
comply with applicable law because the ``foreseeable future'' used by 
the Service in this instance is not expressly identified or otherwise 
explained. Upon reconsideration, should the Service decide to proceed 
with a threatened listing, it must issue a new proposed rule that 
clearly identifies the applicable ``foreseeable future,'' explains the 
Service's bases for identifying that foreseeable future, and describes 
how the Service's interpretation is consistent with the language and 
intent of the Act. The best available scientific data and information, 
previous findings by the Service, and applicable case law all dictate 
that a foreseeable future premised upon climate change impacts does not 
extend past mid-century.
    Our Response: The Act does not define the term ``foreseeable 
future,'' and the Act and its implementing regulations and policies do 
not require the Service to quantify the time period of foreseeable 
future. For each threat evaluated in the proposed rule and in the 
Supplemental Document, we have specified, when possible, the time 
horizon over which we conclude likely effects to the red knot can be 
reasonably foreseen.
    (67) Comment: A commenter stated that if the Service proceeds with 
a determination to list the rufa red knot as threatened, the Service 
must issue a special rule pursuant to section 4(d) of the Act that 
exempts from the section 9 take prohibition all lawful activities that 
have not been found to directly and adversely impact the rufa red knot 
species. To avoid unnecessary and unintended burdens, or the misuse of 
the Act, the Service should propose a special 4(d) rule. Further, the 
Service's rationale in support of the polar bear 4(d) rule applies 
equally to the red knot.
    Our Response: The Act does not specify particular prohibitions for 
threatened species. Instead, under section 4(d) of the Act, the 
Secretary of the Interior was given the discretion to issue such 
regulations as she deems necessary and advisable to provide for the 
conservation of such species. Exercising this discretion, the Service 
has developed general prohibitions (50 CFR 17.31) and exceptions to 
those prohibitions (50 CFR 17.32) under the Act that apply to most 
threatened species. At this time, we have no information to suggest 
that the take prohibitions are not ``necessary and advisable to provide 
for the conservation'' of the rufa red knot to justify a species-
specific 4(d) rule that exempts certain activities from the take 
prohibition. However, we will reevaluate this decision in the future if 
new information becomes available that indicates a change in the 4(d) 
regulations may be necessary and advisable for the red knot's 
conservation.
    (68) Comment: One commenter requested clarification regarding how 
the public comments are evaluated by the Service, and how different 
comments are weighed, so that the analysis and decision-making are 
based on the input received.
    Our Response: We have reviewed all the public comments for 
substantive new information and for any

[[Page 73729]]

substantiated alternative interpretations of information we previously 
considered. To the extent that such new information and new 
interpretations represent best available data, we have incorporated 
them into the Supplemental Document and evaluated them in light of our 
threats assessment using the five listing factors set forth in section 
4 of the Act. Oral testimony on a proposed rulemaking given at a public 
hearing is given the same weight as written comments received during 
the open public comment period.
    (69) Comment: One commenter stated that the Service failed to 
conduct, and provide for comment on, analysis required by the Act in 
its proposal to list the rufa red knot.
    Our Response: We disagree. As stated above, the proposed rule to 
list the red knot as threatened under the Act was published in the 
Federal Register on September 30, 2013 (78 FR 60024) and made available 
for public comment for a total of 133 days (78 FR 60024; 79 FR 18869; 
79 FR 27548). In addition, three separate public hearings were held on 
the proposal, which exceeded the requirement to hold one hearing if 
requested. As explained above under numerous responses to comments, we 
appropriately evaluated whether the red knot meets the definition of a 
threatened or endangered species under sections 4(a) and 4(b) of the 
Act.
    (70) Comment: Several commenters expressed concern about how we 
conduct peer review or use peer-reviewed documents, stating that 
scientific peer review should happen before proposing a species for 
listing, not during the public comment period, and that the Service 
should include the peer review results next to any cited information 
that it disseminates to the public in hearings, documents, and the 
Federal Register. Likewise, one commenter stated that designation of a 
species as threatened must be based on unquestionable scientific 
evidence gathered and analyzed before the designation, not after.
    Our Response: As detailed in Our Response 71 below, we use several 
sources of data in our listing determinations, including articles from 
peer-reviewed journals. In addition, the Service's 1994 Interagency 
Cooperative Policy for Peer Review in Endangered Species Act Activities 
(59 FR 34270) specifies that we will ``(a) Solicit the expert opinions 
of three appropriate and independent specialists regarding the 
pertinent scientific or commercial data and assumptions . . . (b) 
Summarize in the final decision document (rule or notice of withdrawal) 
the opinions of all independent peer reviewers received.'' We have 
complied with the Policy by soliciting peer review during the open 
public comment period so that any peer review comments received would 
be transparently available to the public; peer reviewer comments were 
posted in the proposed rule's docket at www.regulations.gov along with 
all other received comments. In addition, we made the list of 
references reviewed and cited for the proposed rule available via the 
proposed rule's docket at www.regulations.gov, properly identified 
those citations in the proposed rule, and made it clear in the proposed 
rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60025) that these references, along with other 
information in the decision record, were available for public 
inspection by appointment at the Service's New Jersey Field Office. 
Information about the proposed rule summarized in presentations at the 
public hearings may not have explicitly identified the citations due to 
size limitations on the PowerPoint(copyright) slides, but 
hearing participants could obtain this information by reading the 
proposed rule and supporting documents, visiting www.regulations.gov, 
or making an appointment with the New Jersey Field Office. As required 
by the Act, we relied on best available data in determining that the 
red knot meets the definition of a threatened species in both the 
proposed and final rules. We disagree that listing requires 
``unquestionable scientific evidence.'' Rather, as discussed in Our 
Response 27, the Service is required to rely solely upon the ``best 
available'' science, even if that science is uncertain. New information 
that becomes available after listing will be considered during recovery 
planning and implementation, and in the course of status reviews we 
conduct every 5 years to determine if the species continues to meet the 
definition of a threatened or endangered species.
    (71) Comment: One commenter suggested that the quality of the data 
in the proposed rule was undermined by the number of personal 
communications and unpublished sources cited in the document. The 
reliance on unpublished data and personal communications suggest a link 
to falsified data. Likewise, one commenter stated that the information 
contained in the proposal and in supporting documents does not meet the 
scientific standards, and another commenter found that the best 
available science is poor and incomplete science at best.
    Our Response: We disagree. The Service is required to make listing 
determinations based on the best scientific and commercial data 
available. Sources of data include peer-reviewed journal articles; 
field notes and other unpublished data; and personal communications 
from species, habitat, and policy experts. We analyze all available 
sources of data and use our best professional judgment to determine 
their credibility, in accordance with applicable data standards 
(Interagency Policy on Information Standards Under the Endangered 
Species Act (59 FR 34271); Information Quality Act (P.L. 106-554, 
section 515); Information Quality Guidelines and Peer Review (USFWS 
2012f, entire)). As required by the Interagency Policy on Information 
Standards Under the Endangered Species Act, all sources we reviewed 
have been retained as part of the decision record, and all sources we 
relied upon are listed in the Literature Cited section of the 
Supplemental Document and were available for public review. We are not 
aware of any documented instances of falsification or any other 
scientifically unethical practices associated with any of the data we 
cited in the proposed rule, this final rule, or the Supplemental 
Document. As discussed in Our Response 27, the ``best available 
science'' requirement does not equate to the best possible science. 
Although we acknowledge certain data gaps (78 FR 60024-60025) and 
uncertainties, some of which are inherent in all natural systems and 
all evaluations of future conditions, we conclude that overall the best 
available data are sufficient to document several population-level 
threats to the red knot, as well as its reduced population size 
relative to the early 1980s, and thus conclude that the red knot meets 
the definition of a threatened species.
    (72) Comment: One commenter suggested that some red knot 
researchers inappropriately published the same data in two or more 
publications; designed research to give inaccurate results; and 
excluded, altered, or manipulated data. Further, vague or ambiguous 
language in the red knot data may rise to falsification, fabrication, 
and scientific fraud. This commenter states that the inclusion of 
flawed data in the 2007 red knot status assessment prepared for and 
disseminated by the Service violates the Service's information quality 
standards; the Service was informed during peer review of the 2007 
status review that several of the citations were in error, including 
inappropriate interpretation of data as evidence of red knot declines.
    Our Response: We disagree. We are not aware of any documented 
instances of falsification or any other scientifically unethical 
practices associated with any of the data we cited in the proposed 
rule, this final rule, or the Supplemental

[[Page 73730]]

Document. See Our Response 71 above on our data standards. The 2007 
document ``Status Review of the Red Knot (Calidris canutus rufa) in the 
Western Hemisphere'' was prepared for the Service by a group of 
independent red knot experts and made available on our Web site. An 
updated version was published independent of the Service in 2008 (Niles 
et al. 2008, entire). While some of the information in Niles et al. 
(2008) has been subsequently updated with new information and improved 
insights, we have used appropriate information from Niles et al. (2008) 
in our listing determination whenever we consider it reliable, current, 
and best available.
    (73) Comment: One commenter stated that the Service has red knot 
bird banding data from North and South America and will not release 
these data, citing privilege to authors.
    Our Response: This comment is incorrect. Most data regarding the 
marking and resighting of red knots are housed and maintained by 
BandedBirds.org, which is affiliated with the New Jersey Audubon 
Society. Although the Service has provided support to BandedBirds.org, 
we do not operate this database, nor set the policies regarding the 
dissemination of the data it contains. Throughout the proposed rule and 
the Supplemental Document, we present summary information, analysis, 
and conclusions drawn from BandedBirds.org data. This is possible 
because we obtained limited excerpts from the database through a data 
sharing agreement with BandedBirds.org, and we coordinated with the 
database manager to ensure that we obtained all necessary permissions 
from the individual contributors of the data, as per the policies of 
BandedBirds.org. These excerpts have been and remain available to the 
public by appointment at the Service's New Jersey Field Office. Certain 
red knot resightings data are also available to the public directly at 
BandedBirds.org, and access to additional data can be requested from 
the database administrator.
    (74) Comment: One commenter noted that there are six subspecies of 
Calidris canutus and that the Service needs to know more about the 
other five subspecies to make a decision about C.c. rufa. This 
commenter contends that all the subspecies migrate to the same area, 
albeit by different routes, and breed in the same area. However, no one 
knows for certain if they interbreed or not.
    Our Response: We disagree with this assessment. In the proposed 
rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, pp. 4-7, 9), we presented 
best available data that the three recognized North American subspecies 
do not interbreed. We have updated the Supplemental Document 
(Subspecies Nonbreeding Distributions) with new information regarding 
the nonbreeding ranges of Calidris canutus rufa and C.c. roselaari. 
There are a few areas of known overlap and additional regions of 
potential overlap between the nonbreeding distributions of these two 
subspecies. However, all newly available information supports our 
previous conclusions that the breeding areas of these two subspecies 
are distinct, with C.c. roselaari breeding in Alaska and eastern 
Russia, and C.c. canutus breeding in the central Canadian Arctic. 
Although C.c. islandica breeds in Canada just north of C.c. rufa, the 
islandica subspecies migrates and winters in Europe and does not occur 
in the United States. The other three subspecies do not occur in North 
America.
    (75) Comment: One commenter stated that the International Union for 
Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, cited by 
the respected Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, lists the 
conservation status of the red knot as one of ``Least Concern'' and, 
therefore, concludes the science does not support the Service's 
proposal.
    Our Response: Under section 4 of the Act, a species shall be listed 
if it meets the definition of a threatened or endangered species 
because of any of the five factors, considering solely best available 
scientific and commercial data. We may not adopt the conservation 
classification criteria of other agencies or organizations, such as the 
IUCN. However, we do evaluate and consider the underlying data other 
agencies or organizations have relied upon in making their own 
conservation classifications. Thus, we have reviewed the IUCN Red List 
(BirdLife International 2012), and found that the data presented by 
this source are for the entire global population (all six subspecies) 
of Calidris canutus, and are not specific to the rufa red knot, and are 
thus not relevant to this listing determination for the rufa 
subspecies. However, based on this review of the IUCN's underlying data 
sources, we have made a minor revision to the Supplemental Document, 
specifically, the addition of a new reference (Goldfeder and Blanco in 
Boere et al. (2006, p. 193)), which supports several of the threats 
that were already detailed in the proposed rule.
    (76) Comment: One commenter stated that many threats to red knots 
are pervasive across the Gulf coast. For example, habitat loss is 
occurring across the Gulf Coast (from alteration of hydrology to 
development and from sea level rise to mismanagement of the Mississippi 
River), and disturbance of migrating and wintering birds is common.
    Our Response: We agree that these and other threats are likely 
contributing to habitat loss, anthropogenic mortality, or both, along 
the Gulf coast, and thus contribute to the red knot's threatened 
status, particularly considering the cumulative effects of these and 
other threats rangewide.
    (77) Comment: Several commenters expressed concern over the 
apparent contradiction between the Service justifying a threatened 
status for red knot while acknowledging difficulty in estimating the 
total population of red knots and recognizing that knot numbers have 
been stable in recent years.
    Our Response: First, we disagree that there is a contradiction. 
While a precise estimate of a species population is an ideal piece of 
information to have, it is not a required piece of information for a 
listing determination. Under section 4 of the Act, a species shall be 
listed if it meets the definition of a threatened or endangered species 
because of any (one or more) of the five factors (threats), considering 
solely best available scientific and commercial data. Although many 
species proposed for listing have undergone, or are undergoing, a 
population decline, declining numbers are not required for listing if a 
species is facing sufficient threats, now or in the foreseeable future, 
to meet the definition of a threatened or endangered species. Based on 
our analysis of the five factors, we conclude the red knot meets the 
definition of a threatened species, particularly considering the 
cumulative effects of ongoing and emerging threats, and considering 
that several populations of red knots have already undergone 
considerable declines and remain at low levels. Second, although we 
have concluded that no current, reliable, rangewide population estimate 
is available, we disagree that no reliable population statistics are 
available. We have evaluated the best available population data, 
consisting of survey data for specific regions (Rufa Red Knot Ecology 
and Abundance, pp. 38-52; Population Surveys and Estimates in the 
Supplemental Document); see Our Responses 37, 38, and 44 for additional 
information.
    (78) Comment: One commenter stated that the threat identified by 
the Service as driving the recent population decline has been addressed 
by management of

[[Page 73731]]

the HSC fishery. Therefore, the red knot may already be on a course to 
recovery without listing.
    Our Response: We disagree with this conclusion. Although the threat 
from HSC harvest is adequately managed under the ARM and red knot 
populations have stabilized, knot numbers remain at low levels. We 
continue to conclude that reduced food availability at the Delaware Bay 
stopover site due to commercial harvest of the HSC--combined with late 
arrival of birds in Delaware Bay for unknown reasons--were the primary 
causal factors in the decline of rufa red knot populations in the 2000s 
(78 FR 60024, pp. 60063, 60076). The threat of late arrivals has not 
been abated, and further asynchronies are likely in the future due to 
climate change. In addition, we conclude that a number of other threats 
are likely contributing to habitat loss, anthropogenic mortality, or 
both, and thus contribute to the red knot's threatened status, 
particularly considering the cumulative effects of these threats, and 
that several populations of this species have already undergone 
considerable declines. (Also see Our Response 46 regarding new 
uncertainty about the future of the ARM.)
    (79) Comment: Several commenters stated that there are insufficient 
data to draw credible conclusions about the possible adaptation and 
recovery of this species. One commenter stated that the species having 
existed for at least hundreds of years is evidence that it has adapted 
and survived many previous cycles of natural change without human 
intervention. Likewise, another commenter stated that, in the millions 
of years red knots have been in existence, extreme variance in 
predation, climate, food sources, and other factors have surely 
occurred, yet, the birds have survived and thrived at times.
    Our Response: We disagree that the red knot's ability to survive 
past cycles of natural change--or even past anthropogenic threats like 
hunting--are evidence that its adaptive capacity is adequate to survive 
the threats it currently faces. First, population declines in the 2000s 
demonstrate the red knot's vulnerability to inadequate food resources 
and asynchronies. Second, the nature and extent of current threats are 
unprecedented, as are the scope and rates of some changes that are 
likely to occur over coming decades. For example, the extent of coastal 
development and shoreline stabilization has likely never been greater, 
rates of sea level rise continue to accelerate, and arctic ecosystems 
are projected to change more in the next 100 years than they did over 
the last 6,000 years, which is longer than the rufa red knot is thought 
to have existed as a subspecies. We also disagree that the rufa red 
knot has been in existence for millions of years. As discussed in the 
proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, p. 4), the rufa red 
knot is thought to have diverged from other subspecies within the past 
1,000 to 5,500 years. However, we agree that information is quite 
limited regarding the adaptive capacity of the rufa red knot. Where we 
have such information, we stated it in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, 
pp. 60028, 60035, 60047-60049, 60054, 60057, 60061, 60071, 60072, 
60074, 60075, 60093, 60095).
    (80) Comment: One commenter stated that there is no upward trend in 
rufa red knot populations as measured by any consistently applied 
methodology.
    Our Response: As discussed in the proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot 
Ecology and Abundance, pp. 53-54), we generally concur with this 
conclusion. One shorter-term data set (2007 to 2013) based on ground 
counts in Virginia did show an upward trend through 2012 but was down 
sharply in 2013, and a 2013 count from Brazil was markedly higher but 
this was likely due, at least in part, to favorable tidal conditions 
during the survey. However, two data sets associated with high 
confidence (Tierra del Fuego, Delaware Bay) show stabilization at low 
levels in recent years following sharp declines in the 2000s. Two other 
data sets (South American and Virginia spring stopovers) suggest 
declines in the 2000s relative to the 1990s. All other available data 
sets are insufficient for trend analysis. Our conclusions regarding 
trends in available population data are presented, with only minor 
updates, in the Supplemental Document (Summary--Population Surveys and 
Estimates).
    (81) Comment: One commenter stated that the apparent red knot 
decline is based on the inconsistent methodologies, geographic areas, 
dates, and times of day, and compares multiple years' estimates against 
a single day. Further, total rangewide population estimates reported by 
some authors in certain years (e.g., 2004, 2005) have been lower than 
counts at individual migration stopovers. Likewise, one commenter 
stated that data are insufficient to draw credible conclusions about 
the decline of this species.
    Our Response: We disagree. We did not rely upon or cite the total 
rangewide population estimates mentioned by the commenter. In the 
proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, p. 53), we 
concluded that substantial declines occurred in two key red knot areas 
in the 2000s: The Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego wintering area and the 
Delaware Bay stopover area. We associated these trends with higher 
confidence levels based on consistency of methods, coverage, and 
observers (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, pp. 39, 48).
    (82) Comment: Several commenters expressed concern with the 
Service's apparent reliance on eBird data because it is citizen science 
and not considered scientifically rigorous, is skewed towards 
recreational birders and easily accessible locations, and is not 
representative of all the places, known or unknown, red knots utilize. 
The red knot population does not breed in colonies, which makes 
gathering credible population data beyond the reach of recreational 
birders. There are certain areas where red knot counts are made, mostly 
where birdwatchers are. Many more red knots may be utilizing unknown 
habitats and thus may be missed by surveys.
    Our Response: First, we disagree that citizen science cannot be 
scientifically rigorous. Specific to eBird, we have reviewed the 
quality control protocols, which include vetting to minimize the risk 
of mistaken bird identification. Second, we conclude that, for some 
parts of the red knot's range (e.g., interior States) during some 
seasons (e.g., migration), eBird data represent the best available 
information. However, we agree that eBird data include reports from 
recreational birdwatchers, which are likely skewed toward those times 
and places that birdwatchers are active. The data are also temporally 
skewed, with far more recent than historical records, likely due to the 
growing access and popularity of recording observations electronically. 
For these reasons, we have not interpreted eBird records as a complete 
geographic representation of the range, nor have we relied upon these 
data for trend analysis. We did consider eBird, along with other data, 
for certain purposes relevant to listing, such as documentation or 
seasonality of occurrence in a particular area. We note that eBird 
records for Calidris canutus do not distinguish among subspecies; see 
Our Response 35 and the Supplemental Document (Subspecies Nonbreeding 
Distribution) regarding how we have delineated the nonbreeding ranges 
of C.c. rufa versus C.c. roselaari based on best available data.
    Third, we have relied on numerous data sets for our analysis of 
population trends (see Population Surveys and

[[Page 73732]]

Estimates in the Supplemental Document). Long-term professional (as 
opposed to volunteer) surveys have been conducted in several key areas 
because these areas are known to support important concentrations of 
red knots and other shorebirds, not based on convenient locations. 
Sharp and protracted declines in two of these areas (Tierra del Fuego 
and Delaware Bay) in the 2000s were an important consideration in our 
listing determination, although declining numbers (rangewide or in 
portions of the range) are not necessary for listing if a species is 
facing population-level threats (see Our Responses 27 and 77). We agree 
that the vast and remote breeding range of the rufa red knot, along 
with its solitary nesting habits, largely preclude any comprehensive 
surveys on the breeding grounds, either professional or volunteer. 
Nonetheless, we conclude that credible population data can and are 
collected in certain nonbreeding areas through consistent ground and 
aerial counts and, more recently, have been calculated by mathematical 
modelling based on resightings of marked birds.
    Finally, we agree that not all red knot habitats are fully known, 
and some portions of the range are difficult to access or accurately 
survey. Although new information continues to emerge about such areas, 
new information available since the proposed rule has not changed our 
assessment of red knot population declines in Delaware Bay and Tierra 
del Fuego in the 2000s, or our evaluation of threats facing this 
species.
    (83) Comment: One commenter stated that no controlled studies have 
been done to compare current red knot populations to prior red knot 
populations for the same area. In addition, the two areas (breeding and 
wintering) where this species spends most of the year are remote and 
not conducive to accurate population and biological studies.
    Our Response: We disagree. While the size and remoteness of the 
breeding grounds have generally precluded comprehensive surveys, red 
knots typically spend only about 4 to 6 weeks per year in the Arctic. 
The rest of the year the birds use migration and wintering habitats. 
Repeated annual counts are available for several nonbreeding areas, 
some of them remote. Some of these counts date back to the early 1980s 
(see Population Surveys and Estimates in the Supplemental Document). In 
addition, we have gathered best available historical data dating back 
to the mid-1800s, as presented in the proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot 
Ecology and Abundance, pp. 33-36) and the Supplemental Document 
(Historical Distribution and Abundance). Although these historical data 
do not permit a quantitative analysis, they do convey a consistent 
qualitative account of historical population trends.
    (84) Comment: One commenter stated that the notion that Delaware 
Bay is the only place used by rufa red knots omits Virginia's red knot 
counts, which the commenter states represent 74 percent of the red knot 
population in some years.
    Our Response: We agree that Delaware Bay is not the only important 
spring stopover area. However, due to the HSC egg resource, we conclude 
that no single stopover area is more important for the red knot than 
the Delaware Bay (Harrington 1996, p. 73). As discussed under Our 
Response 38, we have analyzed more recent population data and conclude 
that Delaware Bay continues to supports the majority of red knots each 
spring. Notwithstanding the importance of Delaware Bay, the proposed 
rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, pp. 17-23) and the 
Supplemental Document (Migration) also present information about 
numerous other stopover areas across the species' range, including 
Virginia. We agree that Virginia is an important spring stopover site, 
but disagree that it supports 74 percent of the total red knot 
population. We do not have an estimate of the percent of the total rufa 
red knot population that uses Virginia. However, by comparing late-May 
peak counts from Virginia and Delaware Bay, we can estimate how the 
total mid-Atlantic stopover population is typically distributed between 
these two areas in spring. Across those years with available data 
(1995, 1996, 2005 to 2014), average peak counts in Virginia were about 
40 percent as large as those in Delaware Bay.
    (85) Comment: Several commenters noted that annual counts of red 
knots stopping at Delaware Bay dropped from around 95,000 in 1982 and 
1989 to fewer than 15,000 in 2007, 2010, and 2011. Peak counts in 2009, 
2012, and 2013 were higher, between 24,000 and 25,000.
    Our Response: We agree that the size of the red knot population 
stopping in Delaware Bay has declined substantially since the 1980s. 
However, we note that 1982 and 1989 were the all-time high counts in 
the bay and, therefore, not typical of annual peak counts recorded 
during this time period. From 1981 to 1983, average peak counts were 
59,946, and from 1986 to 1994, average peak counts were 46,886. (See 
Our Response 37 regarding the extent of the decline.) We also agree 
that, on average, counts since 2009 have increased somewhat, and we 
conclude that the population has apparently stabilized at a relatively 
low level (compared to baseline data from the 1980s), or slightly 
increased over this period. The proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology 
and Abundance, pp. 48-50) and Supplemental Document (Population Surveys 
and Estimates--Spring Stopover Areas--Delaware Bay) present the best 
available data regarding population trends in Delaware Bay.
    (86) Comment: One commenter stated that data collection methods in 
North Carolina are incomplete. Only birds sighted within Cape Hatteras 
National Seashore are counted and not the birds on surrounding land or 
the dredge islands in the sound.
    Our Response: We agree that data collection in North Carolina is 
incomplete, but we disagree that surveys occur only in Cape Hatteras 
National Seashore. While Cape Hatteras staff only survey areas within 
the National Seashore, additional areas are monitored by others. A 
public comment letter from North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission 
(NCWRC 2013) summarized all red knot data that could be obtained in a 
timely manner, and shows numbers of red knots along North Carolina's 
coast, not only in the Cape Hatteras area. Survey efforts outside of 
Cape Hatteras include aerial surveys of the North Carolina coast, 
surveys at Cape Lookout National Seashore, surveys at shoals in the New 
Drum Inlet area, contract shorebird surveys at beach nourishment 
project areas, shorebird surveys at a storm-created inlet, and red knot 
observations incidental to other surveys (NCWRC 2013). Although data 
collection in North Carolina already goes well beyond the Cape Hatteras 
area, additional survey improvements can be made to increase 
understanding of the seasonal locations and numbers of red knots in the 
State (S. Schweitzer pers. comm. June 29, 2014). We anticipate that a 
holistic, rangewide review of data collection efforts and gaps will be 
an important component of the recovery planning process.
    (87) Comment: Several commenters noted information about red knots 
along the Gulf Coast. One commenter stated that although several data 
sets do exist to provide some red knot abundance data, rigorous surveys 
that are typically used to detect long[hyphen]term species trends are 
lacking for many parts of the Gulf coast. Other commenters provided new 
data, including some anecdotal, regarding declines in the population of 
red knots wintering on the Gulf of

[[Page 73733]]

Mexico from Florida to Texas. Likewise, one commenter stated that long-
term data show significant declines of rufa red knots across the Gulf 
of Mexico.
    Our Response: We agree that long-term data sets for the Gulf Coast 
are lacking and anticipate that a holistic, rangewide review of data 
collection efforts and gaps will be an important component of the 
recovery planning process. However, we consider the existing and new 
data received to be the best available data and have used it 
appropriately to draw conclusions in the Supplemental Document 
(Population Surveys and Estimates). Available information is quite 
limited and localized for Louisiana and Texas, but suggest that 
declines may have occurred (D. Newstead pers. comm. May 8, 2014; 
Johnson 2013, p. 1). In eastern parts of the Gulf, any declines likely 
reflect (at least in part) the shifting of some southeastern knots to 
the Atlantic coast.
    (88) Comment: One commenter stated that the red knot marked with 
flag B95 has lived at least 20 years. Thus, red knots have a very slow 
repopulation rate.
    Our Response: We do not dispute the age of B95, but we disagree 
with the conclusion the commenter derives from it. We agree red knot 
reproductive rates are likely low, but note that little information is 
available on this issue. First, B95 is the oldest known rufa red knot, 
and thus believed to be not typical of the average life span. In the 
proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, p. 7), we stated 
that few red knots live for more than about 7 years. We have revised 
this section of the Supplemental Document (Longevity and Survival) with 
new information about long-lived individuals, such as B95, that 
suggests the typical life span may be somewhat longer than 7 years, but 
20 years is still considered an outlier. Second, although long life 
spans can be related to slow reproductive rates in some groups of 
animals, we have little data to indicate typical reproductive rates in 
rufa red knots. The Supplemental Document (Breeding Chronology and 
Success) presents what little data we have regarding red knot 
reproductive rates. Although there is much uncertainty around typical 
reproductive rates, certainty is high that the red knot's reproductive 
success varies widely among areas and years and is highly sensitive to 
predation and weather, as discussed in the proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot 
Ecology and Abundance, pp. 11-12).
    (89) Comment: Several commenters stated that the United States 
serves only as a migration corridor twice a year. What little bit of 
time the red knot spends in the eastern United States is a situation 
that has not been fully studied.
    Our Response: We disagree. First, red knots winter along parts of 
the U.S. coast, mainly from North Carolina to Florida and from 
Louisiana to Texas. Geolocator data show that red knots wintering in 
the Southeast-Caribbean and in Texas spent about 60 and 78 percent of 
their year, respectively, along the U.S. coasts (Newstead et al. 2013, 
p. 55; Burger et al. 2012b, p. 1). Second, red knots would be unable to 
complete their annual migrations without a network of high-quality 
stopover sites at which to rest and gain weight, as discussed in the 
proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, p. 23) and the 
Supplemental Document (Migration--Stopover Areas).
    (90) Comment: One commenter stated that virtually the entire North 
American population of red knots uses the shores of the Delaware Bay 
during their migration in the spring. Likewise, another commenter 
stated that the red knot in North Carolina is at the extremity of its 
range because 90 percent of the entire population can be found in a 
single day in Delaware Bay.
    Our Response: We disagree. The range of the rufa red knot extends 
from the central Canadian Arctic to the southern tip of South America. 
We acknowledge that no single stopover area is more important for the 
red knot than the Delaware Bay (Harrington 1996, p. 73). However, as 
discussed in the proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, p. 
29), Delaware Bay provides the final Atlantic coast stopover each 
spring for the majority of the red knot population, but not the entire 
population (see Our Response 38 above). The proposed rule (Rufa Red 
Knot Ecology and Abundance, pp. 17-23) and the Supplemental Document 
(Migration) present information about numerous other stopover areas 
across the species' range. Specific to North Carolina, habitats in this 
State support wintering red knots, and provide stopover during spring 
and fall migration (see Population Surveys and Estimates in the 
Supplemental Document). Some of the same birds that stop in Delaware 
Bay also winter or stopover in North Carolina (BandedBirds.org 2012; 
Niles et al. 2012a, entire), and new geolocator data from two juveniles 
show these birds spent much of their first (nonbreeding) year (winter 
and summer) in the Southeast between North Carolina and Georgia (S. 
Koch, L. Niles, R. Porter, and F. Sanders pers. comm. August 8 and 12, 
2014).
    (91) Comment: One commenter provided new geolocator results that 
several Texas-wintering knots followed a fall migration route along the 
Atlantic coast, rather than exclusively through the interior of the 
United States as stated in the proposed rule. While a midcontinental 
migration is probably the most common strategy, there are exceptions 
that are potentially important with respect to distinctness of the 
population, and the caveat about the inherent bias in geolocator 
studies should be given appropriate consideration. Further, high 
interannual variability in migratory strategy is illustrated by one 
individual red knot for which the commenter has 3 full years of 
migration data. Though some sites were used in multiple years, the 
actual routes and number of sites varied considerably among years.
    Our Response: We thank the commenter, and have added this new 
information to the Supplemental Document (Migration--Midcontinent). We 
have also eliminated the referenced statement from the proposed rule, 
which we agree was an oversimplification, and we have noted the caveat 
about the inherent bias in geolocator studies (Research Methods). We 
referenced the new data about the migration of Texas-wintering knots 
along the Atlantic coast in Our Response 31.
    (92) Comment: One commenter stated that red knots have not 
declined, but have instead changed their migratory path and habitat 
use. Red knots seem to be in smaller groups in many remote places in 
both North and South America.
    Our Response: We agree there is evidence of changes in the use of 
particular migration stopover areas, both historically (Cohen et al. 
2008) and more recently (Harrington et al. (2010a, pp. 188, 190). We 
also agree that many additional rufa red knot wintering and stopover 
areas have been documented in recent decades, some supporting 
relatively small numbers of birds. However, we attribute these recent 
findings to increased survey efforts, rather than a shift in migration 
strategy toward smaller and more widely distributed nonbreeding areas. 
In fact, there is evidence that, as numbers declined in the 2000s, red 
knot populations wintering in Argentina and Chile actually become more 
concentrated, contracting to the core sites on Tierra del Fuego and 
leaving few birds at the ``peripheral'' Patagonian sites (Committee on 
the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) 2007, p. 11). 
Further, we disagree that any such distributional

[[Page 73734]]

changes can explain the observed declines in the 2000s in Delaware Bay 
in spring, and in Argentina and Chile in winter. We have revised the 
Supplemental Document (Population Surveys and Estimates--Spring 
Stopover Areas--Delaware Bay) to clarify that, although we cannot rule 
out the possibility that some or all of the decline in Delaware Bay 
could have been caused by birds switching to other U.S. Atlantic 
stopover areas, we consider this unlikely based on surveys from 
Virginia, and on similarities in the magnitude and timing of the 
declines in Delaware Bay relative to Tierra del Fuego and several South 
American stopover sites.
    (93) Comment: Several commenters stated that the longest distance 
migrants (i.e., those red knots that winter in Tierra del Fuego) are 
entirely reliant on HSC eggs since the extreme physiological changes 
that they undergo for migration, including to their digestive systems, 
restrict their diet to soft prey at stopover sites. While knots from 
the southeast U.S. wintering areas may still be able to consume small 
bivalves, the Tierra del Fuego birds cannot.
    Our Response: We disagree with the conclusion that red knots from 
Tierra del Fuego cannot digest bivalves during spring migration. We do 
recognize that red knots from the Tierra del Fuego wintering area may 
be more reliant on HSC eggs than other migrating red knots during the 
spring stopover in Delaware Bay, as we discussed in the proposed rule 
(Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, pp. 31-33). However, this section 
of the proposed rule also discussed data from Virginia and the Atlantic 
coast of New Jersey, where knots from Tierra del Fuego are known to 
feed on small bivalves (P. Atkinson pers. comm. November 8, 2012; Smith 
et al. 2008, p. 16). The Supplemental Document (Wintering and Migration 
Food--Possible Differential Reliance on Horseshoe Crab Eggs) has been 
revised to more clearly present these data; see Our Response 54.
    (94) Comment: One commenter stated that recent studies from Dr. 
Allan Baker at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada show genetic 
differences between the rufa population that winters in Florida, the 
population that winters along the northern coast of Brazil, and the 
longest distance migrant population that winters in Chile and 
Argentina. This commenter cites conclusions from Buehler and Piersma 
(2008) that Argentina-Chile populations are more vulnerable to energy, 
nutritional, timing, and immune ``bottlenecks'' with potential fitness 
consequences than the shorter-distance migrant populations of red 
knots. The commenter believes the red knot is only one species with 
several populations, but shows that what happens on the tip of one 
continent can have effects across the flyway.
    Our Response: We are aware of this study by Dr. Baker investigating 
possible genetic differences between red knots by wintering area, but 
we do not have permission to cite his preliminary results, which have 
not yet been published. Therefore, we do not consider it to be 
``available,'' and thus, we may not consider its findings in our 
listing determination. We have reviewed Buehler and Piersma (2008) and 
conclude that both shorter- and longer-distance migrants face tradeoffs 
among the various ``bottlenecks'' they face throughout their annual 
cycles. However, we have also revised the Supplemental Document 
(Wintering--Northern Versus Southern; Migration--Differences in 
Migration Strategy by Wintering Region) to discuss more fully the 
observed differences between northern- and southern-wintering knots, 
including evidence of greater vulnerability of the southern-wintering 
group (the longest-distance migrants) to food supplies and arrival 
times in Delaware Bay. Based on the best available data, we agree that 
the rufa red knot represents one subspecies with several wintering 
populations. We also agree that substantial threats anywhere along the 
flyway can potentially result in population-level effects.
    (95) Comment: One commenter stated that, while Calidris canutus is 
somewhat unique among shorebirds as being a specialized molluscivore 
during much of its annual cycle, consumption of prey aside from 
mollusks in nonbreeding areas is well-documented, especially during 
prolonged migratory stopovers (e.g., C.c. rufa and HSC eggs in Delaware 
Bay and C.c. roselaari and Pacific grunion eggs in the Gulf of 
California). The documented red knot stopovers in the Northern Great 
Plains and the seasonal emergence of insect populations in the Central 
Flyway, various invertebrates on riverine sandbars, and brine shrimp in 
the saline lakes of Saskatchewan may be an ecological correlate to HSC 
eggs in the Atlantic flyway.
    Our Response: Because we find these ideas plausible, based on our 
knowledge of red knot biology, and worthy of further investigation 
during forthcoming recovery efforts, we have mentioned them in the 
Supplemental Document (Migration and Wintering Food--Inland). However, 
we note that these ideas currently lack supporting documentation and 
did not rely on this information for our analyses.
    (96) Comment: One commenter stated that, in 2012, only 55 percent 
of red knots studied in New Jersey reached the departure weight 
necessary to ensure their chance to breed in the Arctic. The remaining 
birds likely fail to survive the journey or reproduce, which results in 
serious population declines.
    Our Response: The proportion of red knots attaining the target 
departure weight in Delaware Bay should not be confused with the annual 
survival rate. Amanda Dey (pers. comm. October 12, 2012) reported that 
54 percent of red knots in Delaware Bay reached the target weight by 
the end of May 2012. Although this metric fell to 46 percent in 2013, 
these 2 years continued an overall upward trend in the percentage of 
birds reaching the target departure weight since the mid-2000s (Dey et 
al. 2014, pp. 1, 4), and remained relatively high for a third 
consecutive year in 2014 (A. Dey pers. comm. July 23, 2014). Further, 
although we agree that adequate weight gain in Delaware Bay is vital to 
red knot conservation, we disagree that most birds under the target 
weight fail to survive the subsequent year (i.e., most low-weight birds 
do not die). Using data from 1997 to 2008, McGowan et al. (2011a, p. 
13) confirmed that heavy birds had a higher average survival 
probability than light birds, but the difference was small (0.918 
versus 0.915), as discussed in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 
60069). These survival rates, averaged over the period 1997 to 2008, 
could mask more pronounced effects of low departure weights on survival 
over shorter periods. For example, the lowest survival estimates 
occurred in 1998, just before the period of sharpest declines in red 
knot counts (McGowan et al. 2011a, p. 13). The 1998 to 1999 survival 
rate estimate was 0.851 for heavy birds and 0.832 for light birds 
(McGowan et al. 2011a, p. 9). Based on best available information, we 
agree that low departure weights (caused by insufficient food supplies 
and late arrivals) were a primary causal factor in the decline of the 
rufa subspecies in the 2000s.
    (97) Comment: One commenter stated that, for the most part, the 
barrier islands along the Atlantic coast are in public ownership, not 
private, and are not frequently used for development.
    Our Response: We disagree. Land ownership varies widely along the 
U.S. Atlantic coast. Past and ongoing coastal development in some areas 
is extensive (78 FR 60024, pp. 60038-60043).
    (98) Comment: Several commenters expressed concern over how the 
Service

[[Page 73735]]

characterized threats to the red knot stemming from climate change and 
how that same climate information could be applied to other species. 
One commenter acknowledged that effects to the red knot from climate 
change could be significant in the future, but noted they are not 
currently. Other commenters stated that the proposed rule does not cite 
scientific data or information linking red knot population declines 
with any climate-related effects, nor does the proposed rule present a 
detailed analysis of how or whether climate-related impacts will result 
in either reductions in fitness to the red knot species or future 
population declines, nor are there models showing the expected effects 
of climate change on rufa red knot abundance. The proposed rule 
acknowledged that the effects of climate change on the rufa red knot 
are unknown, uncertain, and speculative. Further, the proposed rule 
purports to forecast the effects of a complex global issue (climate 
change) up to 100 years into the future. This approach requires the 
Service to rely upon controversial modeling projections of complex data 
to forecast a future that is well beyond our reasonable ability to 
predict, and to imagine what the speculative biological consequences of 
these forecasts will be for the rufa red knot. This is an exercise in 
speculation, not an analysis based on existing scientific evidence, and 
if used as such then virtually every species may be considered 
threatened and this establishes a precedent that renders the Act's 
listing process unworkable. These same commenters stated that many of 
the threats identified by the proposal (e.g., sea level rise and other 
effects of climate change) are by no means unique to the rufa red knot 
and may, therefore, be an unreasonable basis for listing since so many 
other species would be likewise affected.
    Our Response: We disagree with these conclusions. Based on our 
review of best available information, we conclude that threats to the 
red knot, including those stemming from climate change, are likely to 
place this species in danger of extinction in the next few decades (see 
Our Response 66 regarding ``foreseeable future''). Not all threats 
contributing to a species' threatened or endangered status must be tied 
to past or ongoing population declines, if future declines are likely 
(see Our Responses 27 and 77). While we continue to conclude that 
reduced food availability and late arrivals at the Delaware Bay 
stopover site were the primary causal factors in the decline of rufa 
red knot populations in the 2000s (78 FR 60024, pp. 60063, 60076), 
climate-induced environmental changes likely to affect the red knot are 
already occurring and likely to intensify. We have updated the 
Supplemental Document (Overview of Threats Related to Climate Change) 
with information from recent assessments of the red knot's 
vulnerability to climate change indicating a large increase in 
extinction risk (Galbraith et al. 2014, p. 7; National Wildlife 
Federation 2013, p. 28; Whitman et al. 2013, pp. 2, 19, 64).
    We disagree that this listing determination relies upon 
``controversial modeling projections of complex data to forecast a 
future that is well beyond our reasonable ability to predict.'' 
Instead, we relied upon mainstream and thoroughly vetted climate 
science publications (e.g., from the IPCC, the U.S. Global Change 
Research Program, the National Research Council, and the Arctic Climate 
Impact Assessment) that present scientifically based ranges of likely 
future climate conditions under various emissions scenarios. The IPCC 
(2013b) defines a scenario as a coherent, internally consistent, and 
plausible description of a possible future state of the world; it is 
not a forecast; rather, each scenario is one alternative image of how 
the future can unfold. Various levels of uncertainty are associated 
with all scientific data and with all analyses of future conditions. 
The uncertainty levels associated with different aspects of climate 
change have been standardized by the IPCC (see Supplemental Document 
table 14). We used this standardized terminology transparently and 
consistently in the proposed rule (Climate Change Background, p. 2) and 
in the Supplemental Document (Climate Change--Background). The key 
findings of climate science--that human-caused climate change is 
occurring and will continue to affect temperatures, precipitation 
patterns, sea levels, and ocean pH levels--continue to be associated 
with high levels of certainty (Melillo et al. 2014, pp. 20-49; IPCC 
2013a, p. 7).
    We also disagree that the effects of climate change on the rufa red 
knot are ``unknown, uncertain, and speculative'' and that the proposed 
rule does not present a detailed analysis as to ``how or whether 
climate-related impacts will result in either reductions in fitness to 
the red knot or future population declines.'' Throughout the proposed 
rule (and summarized at 78 FR 60024, pp. 60028-20029), we presented 
detailed analyses of best available data (and associated levels of 
uncertainty, when available) regarding how red knot habitats and 
populations are likely to respond to climate changes over the coming 
decades. While biological modeling showing the expected effects of 
climate change on rufa red knot abundance may be helpful in future 
recovery efforts, such models are not currently available and research 
to generate them is not required for the Service to make a listing 
determination under the Act's ``best available'' data standard. We 
acknowledge that climate change is a complex global issue and that 
uncertainties exist. However, the best available science indicates 
climate change is expected to affect red knot fitness and, therefore, 
survival through direct and indirect effects on breeding and 
nonbreeding habitat, food availability, and timing of the birds' annual 
cycle. Ecosystem changes in the arctic (e.g., changes in predation 
patterns and pressures) may also reduce reproductive output. Together, 
these anticipated changes will likely negatively influence the long-
term survival of the rufa red knot.
    Finally, we disagree that virtually every species may be considered 
for listing due to the effects of climate change, or that climate-
related threats are equally applicable to all species within the 
coastal zone. The Act requires the Service to evaluate each species of 
concern or petitioned species individually to assess whether listing as 
threatened or endangered is warranted. Not all species will be affected 
by the effects of climate change in the same manner; each species' 
biological traits and population dynamics will make it more or less 
resilient to any stressor. That said, it is likely that additional 
species will be found to meet the definition of a threatened or 
endangered species based on threats stemming from climate change as its 
effects intensify in the future.
    (99) Comment: One commenter stated that climate change has affected 
the red knot because wintering zones have moved farther up in South 
America than in the past.
    Our Response: We agree that climate change effects are a primary 
threat to the red knot, but disagree that such effects have caused a 
range shift to date. Although we anticipate that changing climatic 
conditions will likely cause latitudinal shifts in the position of some 
red knot habitats, we expect such habitat shifts will primarily affect 
the red knot within its breeding range (78 FR 60024, pp. 60047-60049), 
because the nonbreeding range already spans the entire latitudinal 
gradient from Tierra del Fuego to southern Canada. We have no evidence 
that red knots have shifted their winter ranges in response to climate 
change. We do note that the

[[Page 73736]]

Argentina-Chile wintering area has contracted by about 1,000 mi (1,600 
km) poleward (south), which is the direction that would be consistent 
with the effects of climate change (Root et al. 2003, p. 57). However, 
we conclude that this contraction was not primarily caused by climate 
change, but instead a result of an overall decreasing winter population 
size in this region (COSEWIC 2007, p. 11). Population declines are 
often accompanied by abandonment of ``peripheral'' habitats and a 
geographic contraction into only the best (``core'') habitats. A 
similar phenomenon was noted for HSCs within Delaware Bay (Lathrop 
2005, p. 4).
    (100) Comment: One commenter stated that Congress did not intend 
for the Act to be used to regulate greenhouse emissions or climate 
change. This commenter is concerned that a final listing rule may be 
misused or impose undue burdens on American industries or activities, 
particularly those that have greenhouse gas emissions. Another 
commenter stated that the Service has previously recognized there is 
insufficient evidence to establish a causal connection between 
greenhouse emissions from particular activities and impacts to certain 
species.
    Our Response: As stated in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 
60097), a determination to list the rufa red knot as a threatened 
species under the Act will not regulate greenhouse gas emissions. 
Rather, it will reflect a determination that the rufa red knot meets 
the definition of a threatened species, thereby establishing certain 
protections for it under the Act.
    (101) Comment: One commenter stated that no field data have been 
gathered or analyzed to compare the status of red knot populations that 
are isolated from human activity to those that are exposed to human 
activity.
    Our Response: We disagree that field data are not available 
regarding the effects of disturbance. In the proposed rule (78 FR 
60024, pp. 60076-60079), we presented several studies that include 
field data on the effects of human disturbance on red knots and other 
shorebirds. We are not aware of any comparative studies of red knot 
population trends in high-disturbance versus low-disturbance areas, but 
conclude that such studies would be confounded by the migratory 
connectivity of red knot sites (i.e., factors affecting survival in any 
part of the range may affect populations rangewide), and by other site-
specific factors (e.g., habitat quality, food availability, predation 
rates) influencing local or regional population trends.
    (102) Comment: Several commenters stated that anecdotal data from 
long-term barrier island residents suggest that red knots feed and 
carry on unaffected by the presence of some human activity (e.g., surf 
fishing) and that operation of offroad vehicles (ORVs) driving within 
10 yards of a cluster of red knots that are feeding does not cause them 
to be disturbed or fly. Further, drivers of ORVs do not drive in the 
same part of the beach used by red knots for feeding, and if there is 
any reaction, the flock goes up while the vehicle goes by only to land 
again either in the same spot or a little farther away. Thus, the birds 
are not being harassed to the point their life cycle is being 
threatened. These commenters also contend that cannon netting by 
researchers causes a higher degree of disturbance than these 
recreational activities.
    Our Response: We disagree that red knots are unaffected by human 
activity. We agree that red knots may have a minimal response to low 
levels of disturbance, and that reaction distances and durations likely 
vary with the type and intensity of the disturbance, as well among 
sites and among seasons. We also agree that no one particular 
disturbance event is likely to impact a red knot's fitness or survival. 
However, the cumulative effects of repeated or prolonged disturbance 
have been shown to preclude shorebird use of otherwise preferred 
habitats and can impact the birds' energy budgets (i.e., their ability 
to gain and maintain adequate weight) (78 FR 60024, p. 60079). We 
disagree that ORV drivers always remain out of the wet sand of the 
intertidal zone where red knots feed. On some beaches, driving on the 
dry beach is restricted to prevent damage to dunes and wrack, and in 
some areas drivers avoid the dry sand to prevent getting stuck. Even 
where driving is restricted to the dry beach, ORV use may disturb 
roosting, instead of foraging, red knots.
    We agree that certain research methods are highly disturbing to red 
knots. Therefore, we anticipate that any recovery permits issued under 
the Act will include conditions to strictly limit the extent and 
duration of disturbance to red knots from research activities, typical 
of the best practices that are already generally followed by the 
research community.
    (103) Comment: Several commenters stated that the Delaware Bay-wide 
HSC egg densities show no upward trend. Another commenter stated that 
the decline in HSC egg density on New Jersey's Delaware Bay beaches as 
described in the 2007 status assessment is deceptive, there are no data 
supporting a problem of egg availability for the red knots on the 
Delaware Bay beaches, and the Delaware Bay egg density data and studies 
should not be used for management or listing of red knots.
    Our Response: We concur that the Delaware Bay-wide HSC egg 
densities show no upward trend, but note that we have only moderate 
confidence in this data set. We recognize the importance of surface egg 
availability to red knots in Delaware Bay, and egg densities have been 
statistically correlated with red knot weight gain (Dey et al. 2013, 
pp. 18-19; H. Sitters pers. comm. April 26, 2013). However, 
methodological concerns with the egg density surveys are described in 
the proposed rule and in the Supplemental Document, and limit our 
confidence in this data set. The ASMFC recently dropped the requirement 
for the States of New Jersey and Delaware to conduct the egg density 
surveys, largely because these data are not used in the ARM framework; 
however, New Jersey plans to continue the survey on its side of 
Delaware Bay (M. Hawk pers. comm. April 8, 2014; ASMFC 2013e, p. 4).
    We did rely partly, but not solely, on the egg density analysis as 
presented in the 2007 status assessment (which was later updated and 
published independent of the Service as Niles et al. 2008). Based on 
our own analysis of the egg density data (78 FR 60024, pp. 60067-60068 
and Supplemental Document section Factor E--Reduced Food Availability--
Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Link B, Part 2), and considering several 
different data sources, we regarded trends in egg density data as a 
secondary line of supporting evidence that insufficiency of food 
resources was an important factor (along with late arrivals) 
contributing to the decline of the Delaware Bay stopover population. 
Thus, Delaware Bay egg density data were a relatively minor 
consideration in our determination of the threatened status of the red 
knot. Despite the lack of upward trends in baywide egg densities, our 
assessment of the best available data from several lines of evidence 
concludes that the volume of HSC eggs is currently sufficient to 
support the Delaware Bay's stopover population of red knots at its 
present size. However, because of the uncertain trajectory of HSC 
population growth, it is not yet known if the egg resource will 
continue to adequately support red knot population growth over the next 
decade. This conclusion is unchanged from the proposed rule (78 FR 
60024, p. 60063).
    (104) Comment: One commenter stated that the number of HSC eggs on 
Delaware Bay shores dropped from

[[Page 73737]]

40,000 eggs per square meter (m\2\) in the 1990s to only 1,500 eggs per 
m\2\ in 2005.
    Our Response: In the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, pp. 60067-60068), 
we discussed methodological concerns with the HSC egg density data, 
particularly prior to 2005. We attached somewhat higher confidence to 
trends since 2005 because methodologies have been more consistent over 
that period--there was no significant trend in baywide egg densities 
from 2005 to 2012. However, the Delaware Bay egg density data were a 
relatively minor consideration in our determination of the threatened 
status of the red knot, and are not used in management of the HSC 
fishery under the ARM (see Our Response 103 above).
    (105) Comment: One commenter stated that the early (1981 through 
2000) declines in red knot counts in Delaware Bay were not reflected in 
the Argentina-Chile wintering area, which contradicts the assertion 
that later (after 2000) declines in this wintering area were caused by 
inadequate weight gains in Delaware Bay. Conversely, another commenter 
stated that, with fewer eggs to feed on, up to 75 percent of red knots 
surveyed on the Delaware Bay suffered a year-on-year decline in their 
rate of weight gain between 1990 and 2006. Further, lower weight birds 
have been shown to have lower survival rates, and scientific models 
predicted that the red knot may become extinct by 2010.
    Our Response: We agree there may have been declines in the Delaware 
Bay's red knot stopover population prior to 2001, but we also note 
considerable variability in the peak count data set that makes it 
difficult to detect trends. In contrast, the decline in peak counts in 
the 2000s was sufficiently pronounced and sustained that we have 
confidence in the downward trend over this time period despite the 
variability of the data set. We agree that a number of data sets have 
been used to draw conclusions about the correlation between HSC harvest 
and red knot population trends. Not all of the data sets agree 
completely, suggesting that other factors likely contributed to the red 
knot decline (e.g., late arrivals in Delaware Bay, other threats 
discussed in the proposed rule). Keeping in mind the limitations of the 
various data sets and the biology of HSCs and red knots and looking at 
the general trends, we find a temporal correlation between high harvest 
levels leading up to the year 2000, and a relatively sudden decline in 
the red knot Argentina-Chile wintering population around that same time 
period, concurrent with a pronounced decline in Delaware Bay. Moving 
from correlation to causation, our conclusion is based on a detailed 
analysis (78 FR 60024, pp. 60063-60071 and Supplemental Document 
section Factor E--Reduced Food Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest): 
Although the causal chain from HSC harvest to red knot populations has 
several links associated with various levels of uncertainty, the weight 
of evidence supports these linkages, points to past harvest as a key 
factor in the decline of the red knot, and underscores the importance 
of continued HSC management to meet the needs of the red knot.
    In the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60069), we discussed trends 
in red knot weight gain, relying mainly on the percentage of red knots 
greater than the target weight at the end of May. This metric for 
weight gain showed a downward trend in the percentage of heavy birds 
starting in 1997, which started to reverse by the late 2000s. In the 
proposed rule (78 FR 60024, pp. 60069-60079), we also evaluated the 
best available data regarding the link between red knot spring weight 
gain in Delaware Bay and the birds' subsequent survival. In this 
analysis, we relied primarily on Baker et al. (2004) and McGowan et al. 
(2011a), both of which found a link between spring weight gain in 
Delaware Bay and survival. We acknowledge the following statement by 
Baker et al. (2004, p. 879), ``if the 1997/1998 to 2000/2001 levels of 
annual survival prevail, the population is predicted to approach 
extremely low numbers by 2010 when the probability of extinction will 
be correspondingly higher than it is today.'' However, we did not 
evaluate this statement in the proposed rule because the newer results 
of McGowan et al. (2011a) indicate those earlier (and lower) survival 
rates were no longer prevailing.
    (106) Comment: One commenter suggested that other threats such as 
disease and research activities may have been responsible for red knot 
and HSCs declines, rather than overharvesting of HSCs. Conversely, 
another commenter believes gross mismanagement of the HSC fishery has 
dramatically decreased the availability of HSC eggs for the red knot 
and other migratory shorebirds.
    Our Response: As discussed in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 
60063), we completed a detailed analysis of all three threats (disease, 
research, HSC harvest) and recognize the effect that formerly excessive 
harvesting of HSCs had on the red knot's food resources and the 
contribution this activity had to the knot's population decline. See 
Our Responses 45 and 46 regarding egg availability and the ASMFC's 
regulation of the HSC fishery, respectively.
    (107) Comment: Several commenters suggested that supplemental 
feeding of red knots in Delaware Bay may be needed until HSC 
populations return to levels that provide adequate egg supplies for the 
birds.
    Our Response: As noted in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 
60063), most data suggest that the volume of HSC eggs is currently 
sufficient to support the Delaware Bay's stopover population of red 
knots at its present size. However, ensuring the future HSC egg supply 
will be addressed during the recovery planning process, and we intend 
to continue our active role in the ASMFC's management of the HSC 
fishery. We acknowledge considerable uncertainty around the future food 
supplies for red knots, in Delaware Bay and in nonbreeding habitats 
rangewide. We would not rule out direct human intervention (e.g., 
supplemental feeding) as an appropriate conservation response if food 
supplies in any part of the range should someday become so depleted as 
to present an imminent, population-level threat. However, we would 
consider such a step only as a last resort because it fails to fulfill 
a central purpose of the Act, ``to provide a means whereby the 
ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend 
may be conserved.'' Although supplemental feeding of wild birds is not 
the same as controlled propagation, it has similar conservation 
implications (e.g., direct human intervention as opposed to the 
conservation of the supporting ecosystem). Thus, we feel this excerpt 
from the Policy Regarding Controlled Propagation of Species Listed 
Under the Endangered Species Act (65 FR 5690) would also apply to 
supplemental feeding: ``Controlled propagation is not a substitute for 
addressing factors responsible for an endangered or threatened species' 
decline. Therefore, our first priority is to recover wild populations 
in their natural habitat wherever possible, without resorting to the 
use of controlled propagation.''
    (108) Comment: One commenter stated that since the ARM framework 
establishes a conservative HSC harvest level for the Delaware Bay 
spawning population of HSCs, significant threats are more likely to 
occur at other points along the migratory flyways.
    Our Response: We agree that, as long as the ARM is in place and 
functioning as intended, the ongoing HSC bait harvest should not be a 
threat to the red knot (see Our Responses 46 and 48). We also agree 
that a number of other threats throughout the knot's range are 
contributing to habitat loss, anthropogenic mortality, or both, and

[[Page 73738]]

that these threats are likely to increase in the future. Thus, new 
attention to these emerging threats will be imperative for red knot 
recovery. However, we also conclude that a sustained focus on 
protecting the red knot's food supply--in Delaware Bay and throughout 
the range--will also be vital to red knot recovery (see Our Responses 
45, 78, and 126).
    (109) Comment: One commenter stated that the HSC population in 
Delaware Bay has fluctuated between 1.5 and 2 million since 2007. 
Several commenters stated that there have been no increases in the 
number of female HSCs, or of total crabs, spawning in Delaware Bay.
    Our Response 109: We disagree that the HSC population in Delaware 
Bay has fluctuated between 1.5 and 2 million. This estimate of 1.5 to 2 
million crabs is for spawning adults, and is not the same as the size 
of the total baywide HSC population. As indicated in the proposed rule 
(78 FR 60024, p. 60065), Smith et al. (2006, p. 461) estimated the 
population of HSCs in the Delaware Bay Region in 2003 at about 20 
million adults, based on modeling of marked HSCs. We have updated the 
Supplemental Document (Factor E--Food Availability--Horseshoe Crab 
Harvest--Link A, Part 1) with newer estimates from Smith (2013), based 
on a different methodology but showing similar results. Smith (2013, p. 
2) reported annual estimates of the baywide population size from 2002 
to 2012, with an average over this period of about 19 million and 
consistently more males than females.
    Specific to spawning crab counts, Swan et al. reported season-long 
total counts of roughly 1.3 to 2 million spawning adults along the 
Delaware Bay shoreline from 2007 to 2012 (Swan et al. 2012, p. 1; Swan 
et al. 2011, p. 1; Swan et al. 2010, p. 1; Swan et al. 2009, p. 1; Swan 
et al. 2008, p. 1; Swan et al. 2007, p. 1). We reviewed but, for 
methodological reasons, did not rely on this data set from Swan et al. 
(2007 to 2012) to evaluate trends in numbers of spawning adult crabs. 
Instead, we have relied on spawning HSC density reports prepared for 
the ASMFC. We agree there have been no increases in the number of 
female HSCs spawning in Delaware Bay. The most recent report of the 
density data concluded that baywide spawning activity shows no 
statistically significant trends from 1999 through 2012 (Zimmerman et 
al. 2013; p. 1). This is a change from Zimmerman et al. (2012, pp. 1-
2), which reported that, although there was no trend in females, 
numbers of spawning males showed a statistically significant increase 
from 1999 through 2011. This new information has been incorporated into 
the Supplemental Document (Factor E--Reduced Food Availability--
Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Link B, Part 1). See Our Response 46 for more 
discussion of female HSC population trends.
    (110) Comment: One commenter stated that, due to the bait harvest, 
the Delaware Bay population of HSCs declined by 90 percent between 1990 
and 2006.
    Our Response: We disagree that the percent decline for the HSC 
population in the Delaware Bay Region can be determined over this time 
period, because there are no estimates of the size of this population 
prior to 2003 (done by Smith et al. 2006). As no population size 
estimates are available prior to the 1990s increase in harvest levels, 
we rely on the ASMFC's periodic stock assessments to appropriately 
weigh and statistically analyze available data sets to draw conclusions 
regarding HSC population trends, as discussed in the proposed rule (78 
FR 60024, p. 60066) and the Supplemental Document (Factor E-- Reduced 
Food Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Link A, Part 2); see Our 
Response 46.
    (111) Comment: One commenter stated that females are the limiting 
sex within the HSC population and have a direct ecological link to 
migratory shorebirds through their eggs. Under the ARM, female HSCs in 
the Delaware Bay region are fully protected for the benefit of 
migratory shorebirds. The ARM does not authorize the harvest of females 
until the HSC population reaches 80 percent of its carrying capacity, 
which is well beyond the realm of traditional fishery management 
parameters, reflecting the ecological importance of the resource, and 
the risk-averse characteristics of the current management plan. The ARM 
model builds upon a male-only or male-biased regulatory strategy for 
Delaware Bay HSCs that was adopted by the ASMFC in 2006. The biological 
and ecological basis for the male-only harvest is based on the best 
available science for the species; males are not limiting within the 
HSC population dynamics, and are not ecologically limiting with respect 
to HSC egg availability for shorebirds. Well before the adoption of the 
male-only harvest strategy in 2006 and the ARM implementation in 2012, 
the ASMFC had already reduced the coastwide harvest of HSCs by 
approximately 70 percent from reference period landings, through a 
series of increasingly restrictive addenda. The HSC quotas in the 
Delaware Bay region have been specified by the ASMFC at very low rates 
of removal that are fully consistent with both population growth and 
ecological sustainability. The 2009 HSC stock assessment indicated the 
fishing mortality rates for HSCs in the Delaware Bay region were 
consistent with population growth.
    Our Response: We agree with this assessment of the importance of 
female HSCs. We agree that the strongly male-biased fishery management 
was appropriate prior to adoption of the ARM, and a male-only harvest 
continues to be warranted based on the current ARM outputs. We conclude 
that the ARM provides adequate protection for females from the bait 
harvest, but we note that some female mortality does occur as a result 
of the biomedical harvest. Other commenters noted that positive trends 
in female HSC populations are absent, even after 7 years of male-only 
harvest, possibly suggesting losses of female crabs from unregulated or 
undocumented sources including biomedical mortality. We discuss this 
and other possible explanations for the lack of growth in measures of 
female abundance under Our Responses 46 and 49. In the proposed rule 
(78 FR 60024, pp. 60064-60065), we noted the shift to a strongly male-
biased harvest, and the successive harvest restrictions that reduced 
reported landings from 1998 to 2011 by over 75 percent. We also 
discussed the findings of the 2009 stock assessment (78 FR 60024, pp. 
60064-60065). The Supplemental Document (Factor E-- Reduced Food 
Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Link A, Part 2) has been updated 
to include the results of the 2013 stock assessment update.
    (112) Comment: One commenter stated that the 2009 HSC stock 
assessment indicated the mortality rates were approximately 70 to 75 
percent below the fishing mortality rate associated with maximum 
sustainable yield (FMSY). Even without the benefit of the subsequent 
ARM model, these removal rates were already well below conservative 
levels for important forage species. The 2012 Lenfest report included a 
comprehensive examination of marine ecosystems and concluded that 
fishing at half of traditional FMSY values results in a low probability 
of collapse for forage fish and lower risk for dependent species. The 
quotas set by the ASMFC under addenda IV, V, and VI were already well 
below these guidelines, and were specifically male-biased to ensure the 
ecological sustainability of the fishery.
    Our Response: We agree that the 2009 stock assessment reflects 
substantial reductions in harvest levels, from their peak at 2 to 3 
times FMSY in 1998 and 1999 to 23.2 percent of FMSY (both

[[Page 73739]]

sexes combined) in 2008 (ASMFC 2009a, pp. 25, 57). However, we disagree 
that the findings of the 2012 Lenfest report can be extrapolated to 
HSCs (e.g, to suggest a harvest level relative to FMSY that is adequate 
for dependent species such as red knot and other shorebirds). The 
authors of the Lenfest report (Pikitch et al. 2012, p. 4) defined 
forage fish characteristics, some of which are not shared by HSCs 
(e.g., provide energy flow from plankton to higher trophic levels, 
relatively small body size, fast growth, early maturity). Instead, we 
rely on the ARM to establish conservative harvest limits that ensure an 
adequate supply of HSC eggs to support red knots in Delaware Bay.
    (113) Comment: One commenter stated that under addenda IV, V, and 
VI to the ASMFC's fishery management plan, HSC harvests in Delaware and 
New Jersey were limited, by quota, to 100,000 male HSCs annually per 
State. New Jersey's legislature closed its HSC fishery. If both States 
utilized their quotas at that time, total harvest would have been less 
than 2 percent of the adult male HSC population, which was estimated at 
12 million.
    Our Response: We agree with this estimate of the percentage of the 
male population annually authorized for harvest under these addenda. In 
the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60065), we noted that recent annual 
harvests of roughly 200,000 HSCs from the Delaware Bay Region (which 
reflects New Jersey's moratorium as well as harvest from the other 
three States in the Region) represent about 1 percent of the total 
adult (male and female) population. Our estimate of 1 percent is 
unchanged in the Supplemental Document (Factor E--Food Availability--
Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Link A, Part 1) even upon updating the landings 
and estimated population size with new data.
    (114) Comment: One commenter stated that the analysis of HSC 
tagging data by the ASFMC's Technical Committee has suggested that 
approximately 13 percent of Maryland's catch of HSCs and approximately 
9 percent of Virginia's catch, east of the COLREGS line (which delimits 
internal from ocean waters), are of Delaware Bay origin. A line of 
genetic evidence suggested that 51 percent of Maryland's catch and 35 
percent of Virginia's catch, east of the [International Regulations for 
Preventing Collisions at Sea] COLREGS line, is of Delaware Bay origin. 
When the ASMFC implemented the ARM model in 2012, it required all of 
Maryland's catch and all of Virginia's catch east of the COLREGS line 
to be male-only, as a precautionary measure, to ensure the ecological 
sustainability of these fisheries in waters adjacent to the Delaware 
Bay Region.
    Our Response: In the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60070), we 
concluded that the ASMFC's current delineation of the Delaware Bay 
Region HSC population is based on best available information and is 
appropriate for use in the ARM modeling, but we acknowledged some 
uncertainty regarding the population structure and distribution of 
Delaware Bay HSCs. In documenting the technical underpinnings of the 
ARM, the ASMFC (2009b, p. 7) acknowledged that the proportion of 
Maryland and Virginia landings that come from Delaware Bay is currently 
unresolved, but stated that their approach to estimating this 
proportion was conservative. We have revised the Supplemental Document 
(Factor E--Food Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Adaptive Resource 
Management) to state that we anticipate the ARM process will adapt to 
substantive new information that reduces uncertainty about the Delaware 
Bay HSC population structure and geographic distribution. See Our 
Response 49.
    (115) Comment: One commenter stated that table 9 (reported Atlantic 
coast landings) in the proposed rule does not describe the conversion 
between pounds and numbers of HSC harvested; thus reviewers cannot 
provide meaningful comment on the data.
    Our Response: As explained in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 
60064), the HSC landings data given in pounds come from the National 
Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), but should be viewed with caution as 
these records are often incomplete and represent an underestimate of 
actual harvest (ASMFC 1998, p. 6). In addition, reporting has increased 
over the years, and the conversion factors used to convert crab numbers 
to pounds have varied widely (ASMFC 2009a, p. 2), thus we are unable to 
convert the pounds to numbers of crabs. (For this same reason, the 
ASFMC also retains these data in pounds in its stock assessments.) 
Despite these inaccuracies, the reported landings show that commercial 
harvest of HSCs increased substantially from 1990 to 1998 and has 
generally declined since then (ASMFC 2013b, p. 8; ASMFC 2009a, p. 2). 
The ASMFC (1998, p. 6) also considered other data sources to 
corroborate a significant increase in harvest in the 1990s. Despite the 
known problems with this data set, no other data are available 
regarding harvest levels prior to 1998; thus, we have considered these 
data only to document the very sharp increase in harvest levels that 
occurred in the mid-1990s. The ASMFC relies on these data for the same 
purpose in its periodic stock assessments (ASMFC 2013b; ASMFC 2009a; 
ASMFC 2004)--we consider these stock assessments the best available 
information regarding trends in harvest levels. We have revised the 
Supplemental Document (added a footnote to table 23) to clarify that 
the landings reported to NMFS are provided for context only and cannot 
be converted to numbers of crabs and thus cannot be directly compared 
to the data reported to the ASMFC.
    (116) Comment: One commenter stated that the proposed rule does not 
make clear in the discussions of egg availability or harvest pressure 
that female HSC harvest in the Delaware Bay bait fishery has been 
prohibited since 2006.
    Our Response: We have revised the Supplemental Document (Factor E--
Reduced Food Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Link A) to clarify 
this point.
    (117) Comment: One commenter stated that efforts to restrict the 
HSC fishery are inconsistent from State to State, and that restrictions 
imposed by individual States are being successfully challenged and 
overturned by the commercial fishing industry. One commenter stated 
that other States (besides New Jersey) still do not have a ban on HSC 
harvesting, and this needs to be changed. Another commenter stated that 
the New Jersey moratorium on HSC fishing in its portion of Delaware Bay 
is insufficient to protect the red knot from continued population 
decline in the face of coastal development and constant disturbance at 
migratory stopover sites and with climate change affecting food 
availability in the Arctic.
    Our Response: Regulation of the HSC fishery by the ASMFC is 
consistent coastwide, in that all member States follow the same 
Fisheries Management Plan. However, due to regional and local 
differences (e.g., status and trends of HSC populations; nature and 
intensity of harvests), each State ends up with different quotas. In 
addition, each member State within the ASMFC is required to establish 
and enforce its own harvest regulations that ensure compliance with the 
Fishery Management Plan, and the specifics of these regulations vary 
from State to State. Each ASMFC member State may opt to adopt harvest 
limits that are more restrictive than those mandated by the ASMFC, but 
these limits would be subject to legal challenges within the regulatory 
framework of that State. New

[[Page 73740]]

Jersey's moratorium, which is more restrictive than required by the 
ASMFC, results in implementation of the ARM being more conservative 
(see Our Response 49), but has also raised concerns about unintended 
consequences (see Our Response 120). Notwithstanding the potential 
risks and benefits of New Jersey's moratorium, we continue to conclude 
that management of HSC harvests under the ARM is adequate to abate the 
food supply threat to red knots from HSC harvest in Delaware Bay. 
However, even with highly successful harvest management under the ARM, 
the HSC population will continue to grow only to the extent that it 
remains limited by harvest; other factors affecting crab populations 
cannot be affected by management of the fishery. (See Our Response 46 
regarding these other factors, as well as new uncertainty about the 
future of the ARM). In addition, we agree that, beyond the supply of 
HSC eggs, there are other substantial and widespread threats to the red 
knot (see Our Response 108).
    (118) Comment: One commenter stated that New Jersey's moratorium on 
HSC harvest does not appear to have a scientific basis.
    Our Response: Each ASMFC member State may opt to adopt harvest 
limits that are more restrictive than those mandated by the ASMFC. We 
factored New Jersey's moratorium into our analyses of current harvest 
levels and management practices, but we recognize that the New Jersey 
legislature could decide to lift the moratorium at any time. If that 
happens, New Jersey would be required to abide by the ASMFC harvest 
recommendations set forth by the ARM process. We conclude that harvest 
levels set through the ARM process are adequate to manage the threat to 
red knots from insufficient food resources in Delaware Bay.
    (119) Comment: One commenter doubted that overharvest of HSCs could 
have occurred based on the successively restrictive harvest regulations 
implemented in New Jersey from 1993 through 1997.
    Our Response: We disagree. No definitions of ``overfishing'' or 
``overfished'' have been adopted by the ASMFC for HSC (ASMFC 2013b, p. 
21). That said, Delaware Bay's HSC population is affected by harvests 
in Delaware and parts of Maryland and Virginia, as well as in New 
Jersey. Our evaluation of best available data (78 FR 60024, pp. 60064-
60067 and Supplemental Document section Horseshoe Crab--Harvest and 
Population Levels) shows that coastwide harvest levels grew sharply 
from 1993 through 1997, and that the 2004 stock assessment found a 
clear preponderance of evidence that HSC populations in the Delaware 
Bay Region declined from the late 1980s to 2003 (ASMFC 2004, p. 27).
    (120) Comment: One commenter stated that the State of New Jersey 
still maintains its ultraconservative HSC management strategy of a 
moratorium when the ARM framework would allow commercial fishermen to 
harvest 162,000 male HSCs from New Jersey outside of the spawning 
season. New Jersey's insistence of maintaining a moratorium has led to 
some negative biological consequences in redirecting fishing effort to 
New York and Massachusetts spawning populations of HSCs, which are now 
in decline. The HSC bait shortage has also led to the dangerous 
importation of Asian HSCs, all species of which are highly depleted, to 
meet the bait needs of the domestic whelk/conch and eel fisheries.
    Our Response: We are aware of the finding that decreased harvest of 
the Delaware Bay population has redirected harvest to other parts of 
the Atlantic coast that now may be at unsustainable levels (ASMFC 
2013b, p. 22). As discussed in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 
60067; Factor D: The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms, p. 
12), we also agree the importation of Asian HSCs is a threat to both 
the native HSC and the red knot. We have updated the Supplemental 
Document (Factor E--Reduced Food Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest--
Link A, Part 2) with new information regarding efforts by individual 
States to restrict the import of Asian HSCs. The Service will evaluate 
the need to expand Lacey Act restrictions on the import of Asian HSCs 
at the Federal level. In addition, a Service biologist was recently 
selected by the IUCN as one of six scientists to assess and make 
recommendations on the status of the HSC throughout its range, with a 
counterpart team assessing the Asian species. The Service shares the 
concern of this commenter for the coastwide management and conservation 
of the HSC, and we intend to continue our active role in the ASMFC's 
management of the HSC fishery that considers the Delaware Bay 
population in a coastwide context.
    We are aware that some ASMFC members have expressed concern that 
harvest levels in the Delaware Bay Region, which are set by the ASMFC 
and further reduced by New Jersey's moratorium, have raised the price 
of bait crabs and thus contribute to both the redirecting of harvest to 
other parts of the coast and the increasing interest in importing Asian 
crabs as alternative bait (ASMFC 2013f, p. 1). We lack data to 
determine the relative roles, if any, of the New Jersey moratorium 
versus the coastwide regulation by the ASMFC in driving these trends. 
We continue to support the ARM as a scientifically sound mechanism for 
managing Delaware Bay's HSC fishery that adequately abates the threat 
to red knots from food supply issues in the bay. See Our Responses 117 
and 118 regarding New Jersey's moratorium.
    (121) Comment: Several commenters disagreed with our conclusion 
that, as managed under the ARM, current HSC harvest levels are not a 
current threat to the red knot. Conversely, several other commenters 
stated that the ARM framework adopted by the ASMFC appears to be an 
effective approach to managing harvest in Delaware Bay so that 
conservation of red knots and other shorebirds and HSCs are balanced 
with societal demands. In addition, since the model was favorably peer-
reviewed in 2009, its management strategy prioritizes the needs of 
migratory shorebirds, and it is based on the best available science, it 
should fully satisfy section 9 of the Act if the listing is approved.
    Our Response: We have reviewed information and analyses of the ARM 
provided by several commenters, but continue to conclude based on the 
best available data that, as long as it is functioning as intended, the 
ARM framework adequately abates the threat to the red knot from the HSC 
bait harvest. We agree that the ARM is based on best available science 
and is a sound process. The Supplemental Document (Factor E--Reduce 
Food Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest--Adaptive Resource 
Management) has been updated to clarify that our conclusions about the 
ARM are based on (1) the technical soundness of the peer-reviewed 
models; (2) the explicit linking of HSC harvest quotas to red knot 
population targets; and (3) the adaptive nature of both the models and 
the framework, which are intended to regularly adjust as new 
information becomes available. Our conclusion is supported by recent 
computer simulations by Smith et al. (2013, entire). Although these 
simulations are not intended to predict actual timeframes for 
population growth, they did show that simulated red knot population 
trajectories under HSC harvest scenarios governed by the ARM almost 
matched simulated red knot population trajectories under a fixed HSC 
moratorium scenario; thus, the bait harvest levels allowed under the 
ARM are expected to have a negligible effect

[[Page 73741]]

on the red knot's Delaware Bay stopover population.
    In the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60097), we concluded that the 
harvest of HSCs in accordance with the ARM, provided the ARM is 
implemented as intended (e.g., including implementation of necessary 
monitoring programs) and enforced, is not likely to result in a 
violation of section 9 of the Act. Thus, we do not anticipate 
recommending additional HSC harvest restrictions in Delaware Bay 
(beyond the ARM) as a result of listing the red knot. (However, see Our 
Response 46 regarding new uncertainty about the future of the ARM.) We 
intend to continue our active role in the ASMFC's management of the HSC 
fishery, and will provide recommendations and technical assistance to 
ensure that future harvests of HSCs do not result in take of red knots 
under section 9 of the Act.
    (122) Comment: One commenter stated that both the HSC trawl survey 
and spawning survey have generally experienced difficulty detecting 
changes in the regional HSC population, although the trawl survey 
measured some significant increases in response to management, and both 
surveys have shown some improvement since the early 2000s. The temporal 
and spatial extent of the spawning survey may be inadequate to detect 
population growth, and it may not be able to accommodate changing 
shoreline conditions caused by erosion and flooding. Similarly, the 
Virginia Tech trawl survey did not originally sample any stations 
within the Delaware Bay, and the scale and design of the survey may not 
be sufficient to detect population changes consistently. With quotas 
that have been specified at levels consistent with population 
rebuilding since Addendum III, the power of the existing surveys to 
detect population changes warrants review.
    Our Response: We disagree. Evaluations of these surveys and their 
methods have been done in the past and continue to be done by the 
ASMFC. See Our Response 46 regarding discontinuation of the Virginia 
Tech trawl survey.
    (123) Comment: One commenter stated that existing data to evaluate 
trends in red knot weight gain at Delaware Bay are flawed. This 
commenter cited statements from a peer-reviewed report prepared for the 
ASMFC: ``existing data . . . are not adequate to evaluate their 
relative importance [late arrivals versus insufficient food supply] for 
any year of record . . . attempts to estimate growth rate based on 
independent samples of body mass are inherently flawed'' (USFWS 2003, 
p. 6). Based on these statements, this commenter concluded that all the 
weight gain data from 1997 to 2002 are flawed.
    Our Response: While we agree that these statements appear in a 
USFWS report (2003, p. 6), we disagree with the conclusion of the 
commenter. On the previous page, this report states, ``there is 
agreement that a smaller percentage of rufa red knots are making 
threshold departure weights by the end of May in recent years,'' and 
goes on to discuss the two possible explanations (late arrivals and 
insufficient food supply), as well as different analytical methods for 
determining weight gains (USFWS 2003, p. 5). Although the available 
weight gain data set could not be used to determine the relative 
importance of late arrivals versus insufficient food supply, USFWS 
(2003, p. 6) concluded, ``the two hypotheses forwarded to explain 
changes in weight gain in Delaware Bay red knots are not mutually 
exclusive, but instead represent two factors which operate in tandem to 
affect departure weights from Delaware Bay.'' That these two factors 
(late arrivals and insufficient food supplies) worked synergistically 
to cause a decline in red knot departure weights was the same 
conclusion we reached in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, pp. 60072, 
60094). We agree that attempts to estimate growth rates (i.e., rates of 
weight gain) from samples of birds taken over the course of the 
stopover period are problematic for the same reason cited by USFWS 
(2003, p. 6) (i.e., uncertainty in arrival times of the birds in each 
sample), as we noted in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60068). That 
said, we did not rely on this parameter (rates of weight gain over the 
course of the season) in our analysis. Instead, we relied on a 
different analytical parameter, the proportion of red knots above a 
threshold weight at the end of May, which we conclude is an appropriate 
index for trends in red knot weight gain since 1997, as discussed in 
the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60068) and in the Supplemental 
Document (Factor E--Reduced Food Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest--
Link B, Part 2).
    (124) Comment: One commenter, citing comments of individual Service 
representatives at meetings of various ASFMC bodies, concluded that 
Service managers find the basic red knot science is flawed.
    Our Response: Various levels of uncertainty are associated with all 
scientific data. As an active participant in the ASMFC's management of 
the HSC fishery, Service representatives routinely engage in robust 
discussions regarding the strengths and weaknesses of available HSC and 
red knot data sets. Our current agency conclusions, based on a detailed 
analysis, are presented in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, pp. 60063-
60071) and the Supplemental Document (Factor E--Reduced Food 
Availability--Horseshoe Crab Harvest). Our key conclusion is that, 
although the causal chain from HSC harvest to red knot populations has 
several links associated with various levels of uncertainty, the weight 
of evidence supports these linkages, points to past harvest as a key 
factor in the decline of the red knot, and underscores the importance 
of continued HSC management to meet the needs of the red knot.
    (125) Comment: One commenter reported anecdotal information that no 
red knots had been observed by mid-May 2014 in Delaware Bay, and that 
HSCs were unusually small and few.
    Our Response: Red knot distribution and abundance within Delaware 
Bay vary considerably from year to year, and within years, based on 
weather, food availability, disturbance patterns, and other factors. 
Likewise, spatial and temporal patterns of HSC spawning are highly 
dependent on weather (especially water temperature) as well as habitat 
conditions. We may consider anecdotal data when no other data sets are 
available. However, in Delaware Bay, other data sets (e.g., red knot 
peak counts, red knot total passage population estimates, red knot 
weight gain data, HSC spawning and trawl surveys) are available that 
are based on consistent methodologies, such that these data sets can be 
evaluated for long-term trends despite the naturally high variability 
in these natural systems. Preliminary reports from two of these data 
sets show both red knot abundance and weight gain in Delaware Bay 
continued at a somewhat improved level in 2014, for a third consecutive 
year (A. Dey pers. comm. June 30 and July 23, 2014).
    (126) Comment: Several commenters stated that commercial fishermen 
from Maine through Florida have made great sacrifices for well over a 
decade of increasing regulation of the HSC bait fishery. Some fishermen 
went out of business, not only because the allowable harvest for bait 
was severely restricted, but also because the other fisheries that 
relied on HSCs as bait (e.g., whelk/conch, eel, and minnow) experienced 
a bait shortage and spiraling bait costs. The Service maintains that a 
serious red knot population decline occurred in the 2000s caused 
primarily by reduced food availability from increased harvests of HSCs, 
but the Service also

[[Page 73742]]

acknowledges that red knot numbers appear to have stabilized in the 
past few years. Since knot numbers have stabilized, the restrictions 
placed on the HSC harvests (i.e., the Fishery Management Plan and 
subsequent addenda, most recently the ARM framework), appear to have 
been effective in providing sufficient food resources for the 
shorebirds. The regulatory regime for the HSC fishery was designed to 
meet the feeding needs of migratory shorebirds. Based on the success of 
these harvest restrictions in stabilizing the knot population, the 
commercial industry has done its part. The commercial fishermen and 
related industries have borne a disproportionate share of protecting 
these migratory shorebirds.
    Our Response: We agree that the actions of the ASMFC and the 
commercial fishing industry have been instrumental in halting the 
decline of the red knot's stopover population in Delaware Bay. In 
addition to restricting harvests through the Fisheries Management Plan 
(including the most recent iteration, the ARM), the ASMFC has taken 
several proactive steps to substantially reduce landings (see Our 
Response 46 and proposed rule 78 FR 60024, p. 60064). We recognize and 
appreciate these efforts. As noted in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, 
p. 60063), most data suggest that the volume of HSC eggs is currently 
sufficient to support the Delaware Bay's stopover population of red 
knots at its present size. However, it is not yet known if the egg 
resource will continue to adequately support red knot population growth 
over the next decade. Further, the red knot population in Delaware Bay 
appears to have stabilized at a notably low level. Therefore, sustained 
focus on protecting the red knot's food supply continues to be vital to 
the recovery of the red knot, and will be addressed during the recovery 
planning process. We intend to continue our active role in the ASMFC's 
management of the HSC fishery and do not anticipate recommending 
additional HSC harvest restrictions in Delaware Bay (beyond the ARM) as 
a result of listing the red knot (however, see Our Response 46 
regarding new uncertainty about the future of the ARM). Also see Our 
Response 2 regarding economic and other implications of listing that we 
may not consider in listing determinations, and Our Response 120 
regarding bait prices.
    (127) Comment: One commenter suggested that focusing efforts on the 
many foreign countries that continue to allow the legal and illegal 
hunting of red knots would be more productive in producing tangible 
results for the long-range survival of the species than imposing 
further restrictions in the United States where red knot hunting is no 
longer permitted.
    Our Response: We agree that the effects of legal and illegal 
hunting on the red knot should continue to be assessed and minimized 
through international conservation partnerships. Work in this area has 
already begun and changes are in progress, as noted in the Supplemental 
Document (Factor B--Hunting). As noted in the proposed rule (78 FR 
60024, p. 60053), we have no evidence that hunting was a driving factor 
in red knot population declines in the 2000s, or that hunting pressure 
is increasing. However, while not currently a threat in the United 
States, hunting is one of many threats affecting the knot. The Service 
will continue to enhance our work with partners across the range of the 
knot to reduce or ameliorate all ongoing or emerging threats.
    (128) Comment: Several commenters believe that legal and illegal 
hunting of shorebirds is a major issue facing red knots and other 
shorebirds that migrate through the Caribbean basin and winter along 
the northern coast of South America, and that the proposed rule 
understates the overall importance of direct mortality from hunting on 
driving population change in shorebird populations. These commenters 
cite recent evidence suggesting that at least 2,000 red knots pass 
through the Guianas during southbound migration and that many birds 
likely stage in this area and coastal Venezuela during northbound 
migration. Further, documented hunting pressure is significant in 
Suriname, with estimates that between 20,000 and 100,000 shorebirds are 
taken annually. While the proposed rule suggests that Suriname is not 
likely an important area for red knot, there are suitable habitats and 
observations of hundreds of birds from this country. Likewise, another 
commenter asked how the Service can find that individual hunting 
mortality does not seem to affect the population as a whole if there 
are no data on hunting anywhere, especially illegal hunting.
    Our Response: We appreciate this new information and have 
incorporated it into the Supplemental Document (Migration and Winter 
Habitats; Population Surveys and Estimates; Factor B--Hunting--
Caribbean and South America). We have made minor changes to our 
conclusions regarding the overall importance of hunting as a threat to 
the red knot. While only low to moderate red knot mortality is 
documented, we acknowledge that additional undocumented mortality is 
likely. The findings of Watts (2010) suggest that even moderate 
(hundreds of birds) direct human-caused mortality may begin to have 
population-level effects on the red knot. However, we do not have 
adequate information to reasonably know if hunting mortality is or was 
previously at this level in the Guianas (CSRPN 2013; Niles 2012b; D. 
Mizrahi pers. comm. October 16, 2011; Harrington 2001, p. 22), though 
we conclude that it was likely much lower (tens of birds) in the 
Caribbean islands (G. Humbert pers. comm. November 29, 2013; W. Burke 
pers. comm. October 12, 2011; A. Levesque pers. comm. October 11, 2011; 
Hutt and Hutt 1992, p. 70). We expect mortality of individual knots 
from hunting to continue into the future, but at stable or decreasing 
levels due to the recent international attention to shorebird hunting.
    (129) Comment: One commenter stated that red knots are still 
heavily hunted in many places and in many places are called ``snipe.'' 
Snipe are legally hunted, but the average person in the field cannot 
tell the difference between a red knot and a snipe. This commenter 
contends that the Service has data on hunted red knots from the bands 
returned during snipe hunts, and the August 13, 2011, shorebird hunting 
workshop summary shows close to 500,000 shorebirds, including snipes 
and red knots, have been killed by hunters in the Caribbean and South 
America in just a few years. Further, one red knot researcher has in 
the past (2005) publicly denied any hunting of shorebirds, but has full 
knowledge of the hunting.
    Our Response: We disagree with the conclusions of the commenter. In 
the proposed rule (Rufa Red Knot Ecology and Abundance, p. 4), we 
discussed the numerous common names for red knot that were historically 
used by hunters in the United States. We agree that red knots have been 
historically called snipe, and that hunting of Wilson's snipe 
(Gallinago delicata) (previously called common snipe (Gallinago 
gallinago)) is still legal in the United States (USFWS 2012c); however, 
we have no data to suggest that red knots are being killed in the 
United States incidental to the legal hunting of Wilson's snipe. Lowery 
(1974, p. 309) notes that, even in winter plumage, the red knot's shape 
and bill make this species comparatively easy to distinguish from 
common snipe and other similarly sized shorebirds. Snipe occupy 
different habitats (flooded, shallow emergent marsh) than do red knots 
(exposed flats), and snipe are

[[Page 73743]]

solitary while red knots tend to occur in flocks (C. Dwyer pers. comm. 
July 18, 2014). Although the margins of error are large, the best 
available estimates (Raftovich et al. 2014, p. 54) show very few snipe 
hunters in the Atlantic Flyway States (C. Dwyer pers. comm. July 18, 
2014).
    We agree that a rough understanding of red knot mortality levels 
from hunting in South America has come from band returns, as discussed 
in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, pp. 60050-60052) and the 
Supplemental Document (Factor B--Hunting). Throughout our analysis of 
hunting, we relied heavily on the 2011 shorebird hunting workshop 
report (USFWS 2011e), and agree that this report documents high levels 
of shorebird hunting in some parts of the Caribbean and South America. 
However, much of the information in this report is not specific to red 
knot. Thus, we supplemented this information with data from other 
sources. We cannot respond to comments about the public statements of 
any particular red knot researcher. However, based on our review, we 
conclude that most of the international red knot research and 
conservation community has become gradually aware of the hunting issue 
over the past decade, and now regard it as an important area for 
conservation actions, many of which are underway. See Our Responses 127 
and 128 above for additional information on our conclusions regarding 
hunting as a threat to red knot.
    (130) Comment: Several commenters contend that the Service must 
revise its oil- and gas-related findings in the proposed rule to more 
accurately state that (1) based upon the best available data and 
information, oil spills and leaks have had, at most, minimal impacts, 
and there is no available information to suggest that the risk of 
future oil spills is likely to be other than minimal; and (2) there is 
no available information demonstrating that permitted oil and gas 
activities have had any adverse effects on the rufa red knot, and such 
activities do not pose a threat to the species. Further, based upon the 
current record, there is no information available to support a 
conclusion that potential future spills are ``likely'' to impact red 
knots.
    Our Response: We agree that documented effects of oil and gas 
extraction and transport on red knots and their habitats to date have 
been minimal, as stated in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 60087). 
However, we disagree that the future risk is minimal. Based on the 
review and analysis we presented in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, pp. 
60083-60087), we found that red knots are exposed to large-scale 
petroleum extraction and transportation operations in many key 
wintering and stopover habitats. We also found that a number of spills 
and leaks have occurred in red knot areas. The minimal effects to red 
knots from these past incidents is attributable to fortunate (for the 
knots) timing or weather conditions, and we conclude that such 
fortunate circumstances are unlikely to accompany all future spills and 
leaks affecting red knot habitats. Thus, we continue to conclude that 
high potential exists for small or medium spills to impact moderate 
numbers of red knots or their habitats, such that one or more such 
events is likely over the next few decades, based on the proximity of 
key red knot habitats to high-volume oil operations. A major spill 
affecting habitats in a key red knot concentration area while knots are 
present is less likely but would be expected to cause population-level 
impacts.
    (131) Comment: Several commenters stated that the proposed rule 
relied on inappropriate and nonscientific sources to erroneously 
associate mosquito control adulticides (specifically the pesticide 
fenthion) with adverse effects to birds, and that there is no 
scientific evidence to link the bird deaths referenced in the proposed 
rule to a particular pesticide or mosquito control operation. In 
addition, the proposed rule erroneously stated that fenthion had been 
banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), when 
actually the USEPA regulates, but does not ban, pesticides. In fact, 
the manufacturer of fenthion voluntarily cancelled its label for 
mosquito control, thereby withdrawing it from the mosquito control 
market. Labels for other uses of fenthion were not affected by the 
withdrawal of the mosquito control label.
    Our Response: Although we believed the data to be accurate at the 
time we reviewed and used them in the proposed rule (78 FR 60024, p. 
60088), we could not, upon further review, verify that fenthion caused 
the mortality of piping plovers. We agree that we erroneously misstated 
that fenthion had been banned by the USEPA. We have withdrawn the 
Contaminants--Florida section entirely from the final rule and 
Supplemental Document.
    (132) Comment: One commenter asked what data support the emerging 
threat on the breeding grounds since the Service states that 
comprehensive counts from the breeding grounds are not available 
because nesting knots are thinly distributed across a huge and remote 
area of the Arctic.
    Our Response: First, we conclude that changing relationships 
between red knots and their predators are likely a part of overall 
ecosystem changes due to rapid arctic warming. Although there is high 
uncertainty about how such ecosystem changes will unfold, there is high 
certainty that ecosystem changes are already occurring and will 
continue. We have updated the Supplemental Document (Factor A--Arctic 
Warming) with the IPCC's new findings of early warning signs that 
arctic ecosystems are already experiencing irreversible regime shifts 
(Summary for Policymakers in IPCC 2014, p. 12). Given the sensitivity 
of red knots to predation rates on the breeding grounds (78 FR 60024, 
p. 60057), we conclude that these ecosystem changes constitute a threat 
to the red knot.
    Second, Fraser et al. (2013, entire) found preliminary evidence for 
one mechanism by which ecosystem changes may have already impacted red 
knot populations--through rodent-mediated changes in predation 
pressure. Additional studies would be needed to support this hypothesis 
(Fraser et al. 2013, p. 13). However, we have updated the Supplemental 
Document (Factor C--Predation--Breeding Areas) with new information 
that, although factors other than climate change may also be important, 
the documented collapse or dampening of rodent cycles in some parts of 
the Arctic over the last 20 to 30 years can be attributed to climate 
change with ``high confidence'' (Chapter 28 in IPCC 2014, p. 14). Thus, 
we conclude that the geographic extent and duration of future 
interruptions to these rodent cycles is likely to intensify as the 
arctic climate continues to change. Disruptions in the rodent-predator 
cycle pose a substantial threat to red knot populations, as they may 
result in prolonged periods of very low red knot reproductive output. 
Red knot counts from the breeding grounds are not necessary to reach 
this conclusion.
    (133) Comment: One commenter asked how confident the Service is in 
dismissing predation in the geographically large nonbreeding portion of 
the red knot's range.
    Our Response: We disagree that we have ``dismissed'' predation in 
nonbreeding areas (see proposed rule 78 FR 60024, pp. 60055-60057 and 
Supplemental Document section Factor C--Predation--Nonbreeding Areas), 
and conclude that predation in these areas is likely to exacerbate 
other threats to red knot populations.
    (134) Comment: Several commenters noted that areas offshore of 
Delaware Bay are being studied for potential installation of wind 
turbines. The Wind

[[Page 73744]]

Energy Areas (WEA) proposed for the States of Delaware and Maryland 
appear to be placed precisely in the path of the red knots arriving in 
May after flying nonstop from northeast South America.
    Our Response: We have updated the Supplemental Document to 
reference these WEAs, as well as leases that have been, or are 
scheduled to be issued for development of offshore wind energy. Our 
analysis of risks to red knots from the likely future development of 
wind energy in the Atlantic OCS is presented in the Supplemental 
Document, with only minor changes from the proposed rule (see Our 
Responses 21 through 25).
    (135) Comment: One commenter stated that, while the Service may 
``expect ongoing improvements in turbine siting, design, and operation 
[to] help minimize bird collision hazards'' in the future, there is no 
indication this has happened or will happen. There is no Federal, 
State, or local ability or willingness to regulate wind energy projects 
in Texas or to deter poor siting decisions through prosecution of 
Migratory Bird Treaty Act violations. Thus, projects continue to be 
built in areas where risk to avian resources, including red knots, is 
potentially high.
    Our Response: The commenter is correct that the Service cannot 
control or regulate the development of projects that lack a Federal 
nexus, including wind energy projects in any State. However, we do work 
with project developers to find locations that pose less of a risk to 
migratory birds and other species, and to find methods to reduce the 
risk of collisions during operation. This voluntary process is informed 
by an improved understanding, through research, of migratory bird 
behavior and project design. Researchers from a wide variety of 
government agencies, academic institutions, and nongovernmental 
organizations continue to study factors related to birds' wind turbine 
collision risks. As the science evolves and our understanding of these 
risk factors increases, measures are developed and implemented to help 
minimize bird fatalities. Specifically, research and post construction 
observations have led companies to strictly control lighting at their 
projects, thus reducing the collision risk for night migrating birds. 
More information is available on our Web site at http://www.fws.gov/windenergy/.
    (136) Comment: One commenter stated that, though the Service is 
``not aware of any documented red knot mortalities at any wind turbines 
to date,'' it is not appropriate to make any conclusion based on a lack 
of data. This commenter contends that the wind energy projects along 
the Texas coast may represent the highest risk exposure red knots face 
from wind energy anywhere, yet data are either not being gathered or 
not being shared by these projects. In either case, effectively zero 
data are available on which to base a conclusion, and a precautionary 
principle should apply since it is well known that wind energy 
installations have the potential to be sources of mortality. Further, 
without data it seems unjustifiable to assume that this is either 
currently insignificant or that the cumulative impacts from current and 
future buildout in the area will be insignificant.
    Our Response: We have revised the Supplemental Document (Factor E--
Wind Energy Development--Terrestrial) with new findings from Loss et 
al. (2013, pp. 201, 202, 207) that accessibility to relevant data 
remains a problem, particularly for the tallest (greater than 262 ft 
(80 m)) turbines, because most of the mortality data are in industry 
reports that are not subjected to scientific peer review or available 
to the public. We have also revised the Supplemental Document to 
conclude that, based on the higher frequency and lower altitudes of red 
knot flights along the coasts, as well as the coastal location of most 
large, known U.S. nonbreeding red knot roosting and foraging areas, 
collision and displacement risks per turbine (notwithstanding 
differences in specific factors such as turbine size, design, 
operation, siting) are likely higher along the coasts than in areas 
either far offshore or far inland. In the Supplemental Document (Factor 
E--Wind Energy--Summary) we state that we do not believe any turbine 
related mortality is causing subspecies level effects. However our 
primary concern is that as buildout of wind energy infrastructure 
progresses, especially near the coasts, mortality from turbine 
collisions may contribute to a subspecies-level effect due to the red 
knot's modeled vulnerability to low levels of mortality (Watts 2010, p. 
1).
    (137) Comment: One commenter stated that red knots will not be 
killed by wind turbines. The claim of red knot mortality will be used 
to stop the placement of wind turbines at a time when clean energy is 
needed.
    Our Response: We disagree that red knots will not be killed and 
that risks to red knots will prevent wind energy development (see 
Comments 21 and 22). The Department of the Interior supports the 
development of wind energy, and the Service works to ensure that such 
development is bird- and habitat-friendly (USFWS 2012d; Department of 
Energy and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and 
Enforcement 2011; Manville 2009).
    (138) Comment: Several commenters requested that we recognize North 
Carolina's proactive coastal oversight at the State and local levels, 
which has resulted in the construction and maintenance of high-quality 
sandy shorelines via beach nourishment and inlet relocation. These 
commenters contend that North Carolina has done a great deal to create 
the right balance between use of beaches and protection of wildlife and 
that the State's regulatory approach to coastal storm damage reduction 
projects, borrow source and native beach compatibility, and inlet 
location management is ensuring these sandy habitat areas continue 
functioning in multispecies resilient manners. One commenter stated 
that North Carolina does not allow hard structures.
    Our Response: We recognize that North Carolina is working to 
sustainably manage sandy habitats to meet multispecies resiliency. We 
have revised the Supplemental Document (Factor D--United States--
Coastal Management) to recognize North Carolina's Technical Standards 
for Beach Fill (15A NCAC 07H .0312), which address sediment 
compatibility of material proposed to be placed on beaches. We have 
also revised the Supplemental Document (Factor A--U.S. Shoreline 
Stabilization--Hard Structures) to recognize that, as a result of a 
1985 State prohibition on new hard structures, there are only a few 
permanent, hard stabilization structures along North Carolina's 
beaches. Despite such measures, however, some red knot habitats in 
North Carolina are vulnerable to degradation due to beach hardening 
practices. For example, 2011 legislation authorized an exception for 
construction of up to four new terminal groins in North Carolina (Rice 
2012a, p. 8, discussed at 78 FR 60024, p. 600369), and some of North 
Carolina's coastal communities have begun seeking authorization from 
the State legislature for additional hard structures. Although the 
construction of new hard stabilization structures remains highly 
restricted in North Carolina, extensive temporary structures have been 
utilized including sand tube groins, sand tube bulkheads, and 
approximately 350 sandbag revetments (Rice 2012a, p. 9). Finally, beach 
nourishment and beach bulldozing are prevalent in North Carolina. Most 
of these beaches are nourished at least every 3 years, some as often as 
every year (K. Matthews pers. comm. May 2, 2014). Even with State 
regulations to ensure sediment

[[Page 73745]]

compatibility, such frequent nourishment can interfere with natural 
coastal processes and affect shorebird habitat (e.g., benthic prey 
availability) (K. Matthews pers. comm. May 2, 2014; Zajac and Whitlatch 
2003, p. 101; Greene 2002, p. 25; Peterson and Manning 2001, p. 1; 
Hurme and Pullen 1988, p. 127). However, it is noted that beach 
nourishment can be important in establishing or maintaining beachfront 
red knot habitat in some areas. Depending on the site and situation, 
beach nourishment can be beneficial or detrimental to red knot habitat 
(see Comment 58). The negative effects to habitat associated with beach 
nourishment are expected typically to be short term, though repeated 
renourishing may prolong the adverse effects to habitat.

Determination

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533), and its implementing 
regulations at 50 CFR part 424, set forth the procedures for adding 
species to the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and 
Plants. Under section 4(a)(1) of the Act, we may list a species based 
on (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) Overutilization for 
commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) 
Disease or predation; (D) The inadequacy of existing regulatory 
mechanisms; or (E) Other natural or manmade factors affecting its 
continued existence. Listing actions may be warranted based on any of 
the above threat factors, singly or in combination.
    We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial 
information available regarding the past, present, and future threats 
to the rufa red knot. We have identified substantial threats to the red 
knot attributable to Factors A, B, C, and E. The primary driving 
threats to the red knot are from habitat loss and degradation due to 
sea level rise, shoreline hardening, and Arctic warming (Factor A), and 
reduced food availability and asynchronies (mismatches) in the annual 
cycle (Factor E). Other factors may cause additive red knot mortality. 
Individually these other factors are not expected to have subspecies 
level effects; however, cumulatively, these factors could exacerbate 
the effects of the primary threats if they further reduce the species' 
resiliency. These secondary factors include hunting (Factor B); 
predation in nonbreeding areas (Factor C); and human disturbance, oil 
spills, and wind energy development, especially near the coasts (Factor 
E). All of these factors affect red knots across their current range 
and are expected to continue or intensify into the future.
    Conservation efforts are being implemented in many areas of the red 
knot's range (see Factors A, B, C, and E in the Supplemental Document--
Summary of Factors Affecting the Species). For example, in 2012, the 
ASMFC adopted the ARM (ASMFC 2012e, entire) for the management of the 
HSC population in the Delaware Bay Region to meet the dual objectives 
of maximizing crab harvest and red knot population growth. In addition, 
regulatory mechanisms exist that provide protections for the red knot 
directly (e.g., MBTA protections against take for scientific study or 
by hunting) or through regulation of activities that threaten red knot 
habitat (e.g., section 404 of the Clean Water Act, Rivers and Harbors 
Act, Coastal Barrier Resources Act, Coastal Zone Management Act, and 
State regulation of shoreline stabilization and coastal development) 
(see Supplemental Document--Summary of Factors Affecting the Species--
Factor D). While these conservation efforts and existing regulatory 
mechanisms reduce some threats to the red knot (see Factor D discussion 
in the Supplemental Document--Summary of Factors Affecting the 
Species), significant risks to the subspecies remain.
    Red knots migrate annually between their breeding grounds in the 
Canadian Arctic and several wintering regions, including the Southeast 
United States, the Northeast Gulf of Mexico, northern Brazil, and 
Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America. During both the 
spring and fall migrations, red knots use key staging and stopover 
areas to rest and feed. This life history strategy makes this species 
inherently vulnerable to numerous changes in the timing of quality food 
(Factor E) and habitat resource availability (Factor A) across its 
geographic range. While a few examples suggest the species has some 
flexibility in migration strategies, the full scope of the species' 
adaptability to changes in its annual cycle is unknown.
    The Act defines an endangered species as any species that is ``in 
danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range'' and a threatened species as any species ``that is likely to 
become endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range 
within the foreseeable future.'' We find that the rufa red knot meets 
the definition of a threatened species due to the present and likely 
continued destruction and modification of habitat and curtailment of 
the species' range driven by the effects of climate change, and reduced 
food resources and further asynchronies in its annual cycle that result 
in the species' reduced redundancy, resiliency, and representation. We 
base this determination on the immediacy, severity, and scope of the 
threats described above. Therefore, on the basis of the best scientific 
and commercial data available, we are listing the rufa red knot as a 
threatened species in accordance with sections 3(6) and 4(a)(1) of the 
Act. We find that an endangered species status is not appropriate for 
the rufa red knot because, while there is uncertainty as to how long it 
may take some of the climate-induced changes to manifest in population-
level effects to the rufa red knot, we find that the best available 
data suggest the rufa red knot is not at a high risk of a significant 
decline in the near term such that it is currently in danger of 
extinction and, therefore, meeting the definition of an endangered 
species under the Act. However, should the reduction in redundancy, 
resiliency, or representation culminate in an abrupt and large loss, or 
initiation of a steep rate of decline, of reproductive capability and 
success (corresponding to Factor E) or we subsequently find that the 
species does not have the adaptive capacity to adjust to shifts in its 
food and habitat resources (corresponding to Factor E), then the red 
knot would be at higher risk of a significant decline in the near term 
and we would reassess whether it meets the definition of an endangered 
species under the Act.
    Under the Act and our implementing regulations, a species may 
warrant listing if it is endangered or threatened throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range. The rufa red knot is wide-ranging, 
and the threats occur throughout its range. Therefore, we assessed the 
status of the subspecies throughout its entire range. The threats to 
the survival of the subspecies are not restricted to any particular 
significant portion of that range. Accordingly, our assessment and 
proposed determination applies to the subspecies throughout its entire 
range.

Available Conservation Measures

    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, 
requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain 
practices. Recognition through listing results in public awareness, and 
conservation by Federal, State, tribal, and local agencies, private 
organizations, and individuals. The Act encourages cooperation with the 
States and requires that recovery actions be carried out for all listed

[[Page 73746]]

species. The protection required by Federal agencies and the 
prohibitions against certain activities are discussed, in part, below.
    The primary purpose of the Act is the conservation of endangered 
and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The 
ultimate goal of such conservation efforts is the recovery of these 
listed species, so that they no longer need the protective measures of 
the Act. Subsection 4(f) of the Act requires the Service to develop and 
implement recovery plans for the conservation of endangered and 
threatened species. The recovery planning process involves the 
identification of actions that are necessary to halt or reverse the 
species' decline by addressing the threats to its survival and 
recovery. The goal of this process is to restore listed species to a 
point where they are secure, self-sustaining, and functioning 
components of their ecosystems.
    Recovery planning includes the development of a recovery outline 
shortly after a species is listed and preparation of a draft and final 
recovery plan. The recovery outline guides the immediate implementation 
of urgent recovery actions and describes the process to be used to 
develop a recovery plan. Revisions of the plan may be done to address 
continuing or new threats to the species, as new substantive 
information becomes available. The recovery plan identifies site-
specific management actions that set a trigger for review of the five 
factors that control whether a species remains endangered or may be 
downlisted or delisted, and methods for monitoring recovery progress. 
Recovery plans also establish a framework for agencies to coordinate 
their recovery efforts and provide estimates of the cost of 
implementing recovery tasks. Recovery teams (composed of species 
experts, Federal and State agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and 
stakeholders) are often established to develop recovery plans. When 
completed, the recovery outline, draft recovery plan, and the final 
recovery plan will be available on our Web site (http://www.fws.gov/endangered), or from the New Jersey Field Office (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT).
    Implementation of recovery actions generally requires the 
participation of a broad range of partners, including other Federal 
agencies, States, tribes, nongovernmental organizations, businesses, 
and private landowners. Examples of recovery actions include habitat 
restoration (e.g., restoration of native vegetation), research, captive 
propagation and reintroduction, and outreach and education. The 
recovery of many listed species cannot be accomplished solely on 
Federal lands because their range may occur primarily or solely on non-
Federal lands. To achieve recovery of these species requires 
cooperative conservation efforts on private, State, and Tribal lands. 
We also recognize that for some species, measures needed to help 
achieve recovery may include some that are of a type, scope, or scale 
that is independent of land ownership status and beyond the control of 
cooperating landowners.
    Following publication of this final listing rule, additional 
funding for recovery actions will be available from a variety of 
sources, including Federal budgets, State programs, and cost-share 
grants for non-Federal landowners, the academic community, and 
nongovernmental organizations. In addition, pursuant to section 6 of 
the Act, the States of Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, 
Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, 
Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, 
Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, 
New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, 
Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, 
Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming and Puerto Rico and the 
U.S. Virgin Islands would be eligible for Federal funds to implement 
management actions that promote the protection or recovery of the rufa 
red knot. Information on our grant programs that are available to aid 
species recovery can be found at: http://www.fws.gov/grants.
    Please let us know if you are interested in participating in 
recovery efforts for the rufa red knot. Additionally, we invite you to 
submit any new information on this species whenever it becomes 
available and any information you may have for recovery planning 
purposes (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).
    Section 7(a) of the Act requires Federal agencies to evaluate their 
actions with respect to any species that is listed as an endangered or 
threatened species and with respect to its critical habitat, if any is 
designated. Regulations implementing this interagency cooperation 
provision of the Act are codified at 50 CFR part 402. If a species is 
listed subsequently, section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires Federal 
agencies to ensure that activities they authorize, fund, or carry out 
are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the species or 
destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat. If a Federal action 
may affect a listed species or its critical habitat, the responsible 
Federal agency must enter into consultation with the Service.
    Federal agency actions within the species' habitat that may require 
conference or consultation or both as described in the preceding 
paragraph include management and landscape-altering activities on 
Federal lands administered by the Department of Defense, the Service, 
and NPS; issuance of section 404 Clean Water Act permits and shoreline 
stabilization projects implemented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; 
construction and management of gas pipeline rights-of-way by the 
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; leasing of Federal waters by BOEM 
for the construction of wind turbines; and construction and maintenance 
of roads or highways by the Federal Highway Administration.
    Under section 4(d) of the Act, the Service has discretion to issue 
regulations that we find necessary and advisable to provide for the 
conservation of threatened species. The Act and its implementing 
regulations set forth a series of general prohibitions and exceptions 
that apply to threatened wildlife. The prohibitions of section 9(a)(1) 
of the Act, as applied to threatened wildlife and codified at 50 CFR 
17.31, make it illegal for any person subject to the jurisdiction of 
the United States to take (which includes harass, harm, pursue, hunt, 
shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect; or to attempt any of 
these) threatened wildlife within the United States or on the high 
seas. In addition, it is unlawful to import; export; deliver, receive, 
carry, transport, or ship in interstate or foreign commerce in the 
course of commercial activity; or sell or offer for sale in interstate 
or foreign commerce any listed species. It is also illegal to possess, 
sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship any such wildlife that has 
been taken illegally. Certain exceptions apply to employees of the 
Service, NMFS, other Federal land management agencies, and State 
conservation agencies.
    We may issue permits to carry out otherwise prohibited activities 
involving threatened wildlife under certain circumstances. Regulations 
governing permits are codified at 50 CFR 17.32. With regard to 
threatened wildlife, a permit may be issued for the following purposes: 
for scientific purposes, to enhance the propagation or survival of the 
species, and for incidental take in connection with otherwise lawful 
activities. There are also certain statutory exemptions from

[[Page 73747]]

the prohibitions, which are found in sections 9 and 10 of the Act.
    (1) It is our policy, as published in the Federal Register on July 
1, 1994 (59 FR 34272), to identify to the maximum extent practicable at 
the time a species is listed, those activities that would or would not 
constitute a violation of section 9 of the Act. The intent of this 
policy is to increase public awareness of the effect of a final listing 
on proposed and ongoing activities within the range of a listed 
species.
    Based on the best available information, the following activity is 
unlikely to result in a violation of section 9, if this activity is 
carried out in accordance with existing regulations and permit 
requirements; this list is not comprehensive: Harvest of HSC in 
accordance with the ARM, provided the ARM is implemented as intended 
(e.g., including implementation of necessary monitoring programs), and 
enforced.
    Based on the best available information, the following activities 
may potentially result in a violation of section 9 the Act; this list 
is not comprehensive:
    (1) Unauthorized collecting, handling, possessing, selling, 
delivering, carrying, or transporting of the species, including import 
or export across State lines and international boundaries, except for 
properly documented antique specimens of these taxa at least 100 years 
old, as defined by section 10(h)(1) of the Act;
    (2) introduction of nonnative species that compete with or prey 
upon the rufa red knot, or that cause declines of the red knot's prey 
species;
    (3) unauthorized modification of intertidal habitat that regularly 
supports concentrations of rufa red knots during the wintering or 
stopover periods; and
    (4) unauthorized discharge of chemicals or fill material into any 
waters along which the rufa red knot is known to occur.
    Questions regarding whether specific activities would constitute a 
violation of section 9 of the Act should be directed to the New Jersey 
Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Requests for copies 
of the regulations concerning listed animals and general inquiries 
regarding prohibitions and permits may be addressed to the U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service, Endangered Species Permits, 300 Westgate Center 
Drive, Hadley, MA, 01035 (telephone 413-253-8615; facsimile 413-253-
8482).

Required Determinations

National Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.)

    We have determined that environmental assessments and environmental 
impact statements, as defined under the authority of the National 
Environmental Policy Act need not be prepared in connection with 
listing a species as an endangered or threatened species under the 
Endangered Species Act. We published a notice outlining our reasons for 
this determination in the Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 
49244).

Government-to-Government Relationship with Tribes

    In accordance with the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994 
(Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal 
Governments; 59 FR 22951), Executive Order 13175 (Consultation and 
Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments), and the Department of the 
Interior's manual at 512 DM 2, we readily acknowledge our 
responsibility to communicate meaningfully with recognized Federal 
Tribes on a government-to-government basis. In accordance with 
Secretarial Order 3206 of June 5, 1997 (American Indian Tribal Rights, 
Federal-Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the Endangered Species Act), 
we readily acknowledge our responsibilities to work directly with 
tribes in developing programs for healthy ecosystems, to acknowledge 
that tribal lands are not subject to the same controls as Federal 
public lands, to remain sensitive to Indian culture, and to make 
information available to tribes. We coordinated with applicable Tribes 
throughout the U.S. range of the rufa red knot, but received no 
information indicating that the species is known to occur on Tribal 
lands.

References Cited

    A complete list of references cited in this rulemaking is available 
on online at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket Number FWS-R5-ES-
2013-0097 and upon request from the New Jersey Field Office (see FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Authors

    The primary authors of this final rule are the staff members of the 
New Jersey Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, we amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 
of the Code of Federal Regulations, as follows:

PART 17--[AMENDED]

0
1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority:  16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 1531-1544; and 4201-4245, 
unless otherwise noted.


0
2. In Sec.  17.11(h), add an entry for ``Knot, rufa red'' to the List 
of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in alphabetical order under Birds 
to read as set forth below:


Sec.  17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

[[Page 73748]]



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                       Species                                                      Vertebrate
------------------------------------------------------                           population where                                 Critical     Special
                                                            Historic range         endangered or        Status     When listed    habitat       rules
           Common name              Scientific name                                 threatened
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
BIRDS...........................
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
Knot, rufa red..................  Calidris canutus     Argentina, Aruba,        Entire............  T                      855          N/A          N/A
                                   rufa.                Bahamas, Barbados,
                                                        Belize, Brazil,
                                                        British Virgin
                                                        Islands, Canada,
                                                        Cayman Islands, Chile,
                                                        Colombia, Costa Rica,
                                                        Cuba, Dominican
                                                        Republic, El Salvador,
                                                        France (Guadeloupe,
                                                        French Guiana,
                                                        Martinique),
                                                        Guatemala, Guyana,
                                                        Haiti, Jamaica,
                                                        Mexico, Panama,
                                                        Paraguay, Suriname,
                                                        Trinidad and Tobago,
                                                        Uruguay, Venezuela,
                                                        U.S.A. (AL, AR, CO,
                                                        CT, DC, DE, FL, GA,
                                                        IA, IL, IN, KS, KY,
                                                        LA, MA, MD, ME, MI,
                                                        MN, MO, MS, MT, NC,
                                                        ND, NE, NH, NJ, NY,
                                                        OH, OK, PA, RI, SC,
                                                        SD, TN, TX, VA, VT,
                                                        WI, WV, WY, Puerto
                                                        Rico, U.S. Virgin
                                                        Islands).
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

* * * * *

    Dated: November 21, 2014.
Matthew Huggler,
Acting Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-28338 Filed 12-10-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P